Consumer Law

DC law can’t confer organizational standing beyond Article III

DC law can’t confer organizational standing beyond Article III

Clean Label Project Found. v. Garden Of Life, LLC, 2021 WL
4318099, No. 20-3229 (RC) (D.D.C. Sept. 23, 2021)

CLP, a non-profit, sued Garden of Life, a seller of prenatal
supplements, for unlawful trade practices in violation of the District of
Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act. The court found no standing for
want of an injury in fact.

To further its mission, CLP had an accredited third-party
chemistry laboratory perform quantitative testing on Garden’s products, and the
results found that they “contained quantifiable levels of heavy metals as well
as detectable amounts of WHO Class II Pesticides and BPA,” substances that CLP
asserts “are extremely dangerous to a fetus.” The CPPA permits nonprofit
organizations to bring actions “on behalf of itself or any of its members, or
on any such behalf and on behalf of the general public,” and also allows
“public interest organization[s]” to bring actions “on behalf of the interests
of a consumer or a class of consumers.”  (Note that because DC has been denied
statehood, there are no state courts to turn to instead, only Article I federal courts. No decision I have found fully addresses what standing limits there are on Article I courts; the Court of Federal Claims applies Art. III standing requirements despite being an Article I court, e.g., Weeks Marine, Inc. v. United States, 575 F.3d 1352, 1359
(Fed. Cir. 2009). Apparently there is a dispute over whether Art. III applies in bankruptcy court.)

For organizational standing, the organization must “show[ ]
that a defendant’s actions have ‘perceptibly impaired’ the organization’s
ability to provide services, such that there has been a ‘concrete and
demonstrable injury to the organization’s activities—with [a] consequent drain
on resources.’ ” A “mere setback” to an organization’s “abstract social
interests is not sufficient.”

Neither of CLP’s arguments—that Garden’s false and misleading
statements interfered with its overall educational mission and that the statutory
violation was itself sufficient for injury in fact—worked.

CLP didn’t properly allege a “drain on the organization’s
resources” resulting from the conflict between Garden’s acts and its mission. Even
if Garden’s falsehoods interfered with “educat[ing] customers with regard to
food labeling truth and transparency,” there was no evidence of any concrete
harm that accrued to CLP as a result. There was no claim that CLP was required
to increase the resources it devoted to programs independent of the lawsuit.

As for the statutory standing argument, “Article III
standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory
violation.” As another court wrote, “D.C. law is clear that the CPPA is meant
to extend as far as Article III’s requirements will permit—but it can go no
further than that” [because DC has been denied statehood].

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