World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Citizen suit

In the United States, a citizen suit is a lawsuit by a private citizen to enforce a statute.[1] Citizen suits are particularly common in the field of environmental law.[2]

Citizen suits come in three forms. First, a private citizen can bring a lawsuit against a citizen, corporation, or government body for engaging in conduct prohibited by the statute. For example, a citizen can sue a corporation under the Clean Water Act (CWA) for illegally polluting a waterway. Second, a private citizen can bring a lawsuit against a government body for failing to perform a non-discretionary duty. For example, a private citizen could sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to promulgate regulations that the CWA required it to promulgate. In a third, less common form, citizens may sue for an injunction to abate a potential imminent and substantial endangerment involving generation, disposal or handling of waste, regardless of whether or not the defendant's conduct violates a statutory prohibition. This third type of citizen suit is analogous to the common law tort of public nuisance.[3] In general, the law entitles plaintiffs who bring successful citizen suits to recover reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs.[4]

In 1970, when amending the Earthjustice and the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, often prosecute citizen suits.[6] Some non-environmental statutes, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Amendments Act, also contain citizen suit provisions, but the majority of regulatory statutes do not.

Citizens may only bring citizen suits in federal court if they have "standing to sue". To establish standing, the courts have required proof of three elements. First, the plaintiff must have suffered an “injury in fact”—an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) “actual or imminent, not ‘conjectural’ or ‘hypothetical’”. Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of—the injury has to be “fairly ... trace[able] to the challenged action of the defendant, and not ... th[e] result [of] the independent action of some third party not before the court.” Third, it must be “likely”, as opposed to merely “speculative”, that the injury will be “redressed by a favorable decision.”[7]

Environmental laws that allow citizen suits include:

See also


  1. ^ See, e.g., Citizen Suits: The Teeth in Public Participation, 25 Envtl. L. Rep. (Envtl. L. Inst.) 10141 (Mar. 1995), Jeffrey G. Miller & Environmental Law Inst., Citizen Suits: Private Enforcement of Federal Pollution Control Laws (1987).
  2. ^ See, e.g., Citizen Suits
  3. ^ See Middlesex City Board of Chosen Freeholders v. New Jersey, 645 F. Supp. 715, 721-22(D.N.J. 1986); see also RCRA Imminent Hazard Authority: A Powerful Tool for Businesses, Governments, and Citizen Enforcers, 24 Envtl. L. Rep. (Envtl. L. Inst.) 10122 (March 1994),
  4. ^ See Adam Babich, The Wages of Sin: The Violator-Pays Rule for Environmental Citizen Suits, 10 Widener L. Rev. 219 (2003); see also The Violator-Pays Rule, Envtl. F., May/June 2004, at 30,
  5. ^ See Zygmunt J.B. Plater, Facing a Time of Counter-Revolution—The Kepone Incident and a Review of First Principles, 29 U. RICH. L. REV. 657, 701 (1995) (Environmental citizen suit provisions were “[m]odelled after provisions in the civil rights acts . . . .”)
  6. ^ See Earthjustice web page, Tulane Environmental Law Clinic web page,
  7. ^ Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992).
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.