Select Page

Federal Courts
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Gensler, Steven S.


Federal Courts

Spring 2018

Article III

Section 1

Creates Supreme Court and allows Congress to create inferior courts

Section 2

Cases and controversies, party lineups and subject matter

Section 3

Treason and punishment


5 Doctrines


Must have a case and an actual controversy


An unripe question is one for which there is not yet at least a threatened injury to the plaintiff, or where the available judicial alternatives have not all been exhausted.


A moot question is one for which the potential for an injury to occur has ceased to exist, or where the injury has been removed However, if the issue is likely to reoccur, yet will continually become moot before any challenge can reach a court of competent jurisdiction (“capable of repetition, yet evading review”), courts may allow a case that is moot to be litigated

Advisory Opinion

Cannot seek à Needs a case in controversy

Article III judges cannot be put in the role of issuing an advising opinion à Must go through Congress

Court makes a court order

Political Question

Cannot answer

This doctrine refers to the idea that an issue is so politically charged that federal courts, which are typically viewed as the apolitical branch of government, should not hear the issue


Is an issue when there is a third party actor



Actual Injury à Injury in fact is

An invasion of a legally protected interest which is
Concrete and particularized…and
Actual or imminent

Traceable à Not the result of the independent action of some third party

Link alleged illegal act to the injury
What is the probability that the third party’s act caused or will cause harm

Redressable à The burden is on the plaintiff to demonstrate

Relief requested fixes injury
What is the probability that the third party will act accordingly to prevent/fix the harm

Party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing these elements:

Pleading à general factual allegation

Summary judgment à specific facts

Trial à preponderance of the evidence


Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife

A party does not have standing to litigate a generalized grievance against the government in federal court if she suffered no personal injury other than the harm suffered by all citizens.

Procedural Rights

The person who has been accorded a procedural right to protect his concrete interests can assert that right without meeting all the normal standards for redressability and immediacy.

Party does not have to establish with any certainty that the action/inaction will cause the injury

Court assumes the outcome of the claim

Presumes the links connect in traceability and redressability relating to a third party actor

Citizen Suit Provisions

Cannot make standing any broader than the Constitution

But can remove other non-constitutional hurdles

Organizational Standing

Litigating on behalf of members who would have standing on their own

Legally Protected Interests


Property, person, money


Enjoyment, aesthetic, speech, education, equal protection, etc.


Massachusetts v. EPA

For standing to be appropriate, an actual case or controversy must be present, which is characterized by a truly adversarial relationship.

In a class action suit, only one member of a class of petitioners must meet the required elements of standing to sufficiently demonstrate an adversarial relationship.

Partial Causation and Redressability

Needs to be only one factor that caused injury and would provide some relief

Does not matter how incremental the cause/relief is

Statutory Cause of Action

Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins

The Court held that the standing principles of Article III mean that a plaintiff cannot bring a claim that alleges a bare procedural violation, but in determining whether the plaintiff proved that an injury in fact existed, the lower court must examine the elements of injury-in-fact analysis.

Concrete and particularized are two distinct elements and need evaluated.

Concrete means an injury that is not abstract.

Statutes may give a cause of action, but the party still needs to show standing.


Cannot lower the bar of standing, but can create rights

Non-contentious Jurisdiction

Non-contentious jurisdiction allows a party to seek a binding determination of a claim of right in the absence of an adverse opponent


Trademark seizure orders, voluntary proceedings in bankruptcy, warrants under national security law, applications to immunize testimony

Taxpayer Standing

Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc.

Taxpayers do not have standing to challenge expenditures made by the executive branch of the federal government solely based on their status as taxpayers.

Flast v. Cohen

Created a narrow exception for taxpayers to challenge federal expenditures when those expenditures were part of Congress’s taxing and spending power and were made in violation of the purpose of a statute.

Prudential Standing

Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc.

Zone of Interests Test

Statute has to give the party bringing suit cause of action (zone of interest)

If a claim does fall within the zone of interests, it must also satisfy the basic constitutional requirements of injury, causation, and redressability

Prudential Standing Doctrines

The prohibition against litigating generalized grievances,

Incorporated into protected interest of injury-in-fact constitutional standing analysis
Becomes prohibition on tax payer standing

Excluding Flast exception

The prohibition against litigating the rights of a third party, and

Slowly going away

The requirement that the plaintiff’s interest falls within the zone of interests that the statute was designed to protect.

Supreme Court is slowly removing this

Not a function of standing

Third Party Standing

General Rule

One to whom application of a statute is constitutional will not be heard to attack the statute on the ground that impliedly it might also be taken as applying to other persons or other situations in which its application might be unconstitutional

Declaratory and injunctive relief
Plaintiff establishes that he has his own injury caused by an act and brings suit for relief but does not have the merits and view through the facts of when someone else wou

is not ripe for adjudication if it rests upon contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all

Even if you have an actual/imminent injury that satisfies standing

Pre-enforcement Review

Challenging a law before it is enforced against a party (having recognized standing)

Law with an effective date
Most people just comply so you have to wait

Injury is foregoing behavior that the party has a right to do because of an illegal law

Imminent compliance injury

Injury incurring costs to comply

How to challenge?

Pacific Gas & Electric Company v. State Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission

The question of ripeness turns on the fitness of the issues for a judicial review decision and the hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration

Declaratory Judgment

Party satisfies the Pacific Gas Test/Rule

Decision if you satisfy standing in the pre-enforcement stage, but if it is more practical (fitness) and there is not enough hardship, then wait until the enforcement stage

What facts are available to move to trial?

Federal Question Jurisdiction


Is there diversity jurisdiction or federal question jurisdiction?

If there is a federal question

Statutory requirement 1331

Complete preemption

Then use the Well-pleaded complaint rule (Mottley)

Did the plaintiff plead a cause of action that Congress created the subject matter (through a statute) and did it have the power to grant it (Article III, Section 2)

Not in anticipation of a federal defense

State law claim (Grable Babies)

Use only when the plaintiff argues a federal issue à otherwise, no need to apply test
Test (Grable)

Can only apply when there is a federal issue embedded in the state law claim

Necessarily raised (needed to analyze)
Actual controversy

To satisfy this requirement, the issue must be substantial to the federal system as a whole, rather than merely substantial to the case à real-world consequences (Gunn)
Do not use the perspective of the litigants

Balance between state and federal courts

Would disrupt the dockets in state and federal courts

The type of case

Congress has explicitly said is not for federal courts or creating a type of case not addressed by Congress

Amount of cases

Too much