Judicial Power in the Laboratory: State Court Treatment of the One Good Plaintiff Rule
Written By: Chris Conrad
This Note presents original research on whether one of the few exceptions to Article III standing, the One Good Plaintiff Rule (the Rule), should be eliminated in the federal judiciary on practical grounds. Based on a comprehensive survey of parallel state court doctrines, this Note argues that the Rule should be retained.
The One Good Plaintiff Rule emerged in the U.S. Supreme Court in the mid-1960s. It was modified in 2017 by the Court’s ruling in Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates, Inc., which held that parties without proper Article III standing can remain in federal lawsuits as long as they seek the same form of relief as other plaintiffs in the action that do have proper standing. This “One Good Plaintiff Rule,” like several other Article III standing exceptions, enables parties without a redressable, cognizable injury to obtain enforceable judgments against a defendant.
Allowing judges to bypass individualized standing inquiries of multiple plaintiffs under the Rule saves the federal judiciary a great deal of time. But Laroe’s Rule also pushes the outer boundaries of Article III judicial power and risks imposing wrongful costs—improper claim preclusion, erroneous awards of attorneys’ fees and court costs, and misallocation of trial rights—on litigants and courts. Prompted by these considerations and the rise of the connected issue of nationwide injunctions, the Rule has faced burgeoning criticism over the last few years after dodging scrutiny for close to half a century. Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Solicitor General, trial judges, legal scholars, and practitioners have all raised concerns about the propriety of federal judges adjudicating the rights of parties other than those directly harmed in specific cases and controversies. The One Good Plaintiff Rule is central to this debate.
Virtually all of the emerging literature on the One Good Plaintiff Rule solely addresses its constitutional or normative bases. By contrast, few scholars and practitioners have confronted the Rule’s practical or positive costs and benefits. With this literature gap in mind, this Note leverages the state court systems as a control group for determining whether the Rule’s benefits to judicial economy outweigh its negative externalities.