SC Lawyer, July 2009, #5. Standing in South Carolina: What Is Required and Who Has It?.

AuthorBy Jessica Clancy Crowson and C.W. Christian Shea

South Carolina Lawyer


SC Lawyer, July 2009, #5.

Standing in South Carolina: What Is Required and Who Has It?

South Carolina Lawyer July 2009 Standing in South Carolina: What Is Required and Who Has It? By Jessica Clancy Crowson and C.W. Christian Shea Introduction

Salacious facts, juicy motives and guilty parties can help create an attorney's dream case, but as any attorney can attest, there are crucial thresholds that must be met before such a case is heard by a judge or jury. Arguably, the most critical threshold a party must meet is standing. While standing is a fundamentally simple test, in practice it often requires a practiced, thorough understanding of the current law. While the substantive facts may be a winner, without the proper party a case will never reach the courtroom. In layman's terms: no standing equals no case.

However, it is not quite that simple. Generally, a party must be a real party in interest to the litigation to have standing to ensure that only true, bona fide controversies are heard by the court. Often this can be a clear-cut, easily answered inquiry relating the loss of the aggrieved party to the actions of the defendant. However, many disputes arise that leave questions as to whether a party has standing. While standing is an initial, procedural requirement in any lawsuit, it requires practitioners to have an understanding of current law to assure that every possible case reaches the courtroom.

Traditionally, South Carolina and other jurisdictions have embraced two tests for standing. The first and most clear test to obtain standing is pursuant to statute. If a statute lists the parties that have standing to bring an action related to a matter, then without question, those enumerated parties have unchallengeable standing. The second test for standing originated from the seminal case, Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 US. 555 (1992), which sets forth a three prong test for obtaining constitutional standing.

Additionally, in South Carolina our courts have carved out a "public importance" exception to these two baseline standing tests. This exception has been the subject of extensive litigation in recent years. This "public importance" exception has gained considerable traction in a variety of cases and has been the subject of much confusion and misapplication. Understanding this exception is critical, as it is a helpful tool in the arsenal of South Carolina attorneys seeking to meet the threshold standing test.

This article briefly summarizes the two long-established, traditional tests for standing and provides a more detailed analysis and update on the developing "public importance" exception.

I. Statutory standing

The first type of standing is statutory standing. If a statute is on point and grants standing to a party, the inquiry can end right there; that party has standing. This is perhaps the simplest, most straightforward type of standing.

Where a statute's language is plain and unambiguous, the rules of statutory interpretation are not needed. This follows from the idea that whenever possible, legislative intent should be found in the plain language of the statute itself. State v. Gaines, 380 S.C. 23, 667 S.E.2d 728 (2008). As a complement, the cardinal rule of statutory construction is always to ascertain and effectuate the intent of the legislature. Hodges v. Rainey, 341 S.C. 79, 533 S.E.2d 578 (2000). These considerations together are of the utmost importance because all rules of statutory construction are subservient to the maxim that legislative intent must prevail if it can be reasonably discovered in the statutory language used. State v. Pittman, 373 S.C. 527, 647 S.E.2d 144 (2007). Further, the statutory language must be construed in light of the intended purpose of the statute. Therefore, where such information is clear, either from the law itself or extrinsic evidence, a party will be deemed to have statutory standing.

II. Lujan constitutional standing

The second type of standing is constitutional standing, and Lujan is the controlling, federal case. Per Lujan, standing is an...

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