You might have heard a court rule that someone lacked “standing” to pursue a lawsuit. What does “standing” mean in a lawsuit?
“Standing” is the right to bring a lawsuit. There are many factors that affect whether or not a party has standing to sue, but the general concept is that if a lawsuit is pursued in court, the court wants to be sure that the right party is pursuing it. Often this means that a party must show that it has a strong enough connection to the lawsuit to bring it.
Here’s an example: Imagine that my intoxicated neighbor ran me over with a car and I survived. Who do you think a court should permit to sue my neighbor over this incident? It is pretty clear that I should be able to sue because I am the actual victim. Should my wife or children be able to sue (e.g., because they have suffered as a result of the incident)? Should my employer be able to sue (e.g., because it has lost my services for some time period)? Should my neighbor be able to sue (e.g., because he/she feels really bad about the incident). Should my credit card company be able to sue (e.g., because I am now somewhat less likely to earn an income, and therefore less likely to be able to pay my credit card bill)?
Reasonable people (including lawyers and judges) can disagree about who should or should not have standing in a particular case. There is an extensive body of law in the United States regarding standing, and the issue of standing arises frequently.
Here is a more real-world example of a standing issue: Imagine that Inventor owns a patent for some invetion, and that he has licensed the patent to Company. Company learns that Infringer is illegally using the patented technology. Should Company be able to sue Infringer for this violation of the patent rights? Or should a court find that Inventor is the party that actually has standing to sue? In this particular scenario, federal courts in the U.S. will typically look at whether the license to Company transferred all substantial rights in the patent; the courts generally want the infringement suit to be brought by the party that really owns the patented technology. This particular standing issue is very technical and there are many reported court cases on the subject.
Sophisticated parties tend to be aware of the standing issue. Before bringing a lawsuit, one of the first questions they ask their attorneys is whether they have standing to sue. It could be a tremendous waste of resources to take a lawsuit to court only to receive a ruling from the court that you lack standing to sue.