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Part 1 of a 2 part series on the issue of standing to sue for Open Meeting Act violations.
When writing for FOIBible I try to keep in mind that my audience is not all lawyers and judges (thank goodness!). So if you are here as a concerned citizen I’m going to give you a little introduction to the legal terms and concepts we are discussing. If you are a legal professional or a seasoned concerned citizen who is already comfortable with the terms then skip this next section and go straight to the section titled “Legal Landscape.”
The legal concept that we are covering today is one of standing. Standing is a term of art that has huge impacts on a person’s legal right to sue. In this situation, we are specifically discussing the right to sue the government for violating the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.
The Courts are here to decide cases and controversies. They have always said that they are not here to issue mere advisory opinions or other types of opinions that do not actually settle a legal dispute – or a “case or controversy” as they say. In order to avoid issuing an opinion that is mere “advisory” the courts will look to “standing” of the plaintiff to sue.
Standing is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, Second Pocket Edition as: “A party’s right to make a legal claim or seek judicial enforcement of a duty or right.” The question asked is does this particular plaintiff have an interest in the subject matter of the lawsuit or, in other words, should they even have the right to sue.
Let’s throw in a made-up example here. Say two of my neighbors down the road are fighting over a car that one sold the other and there are some issues with the car. The buyer is mad that seller sold him a “lemon” and wants his money back. The buyer would have a legitimate stake in the outcome of any lawsuit between them. The seller would as well and may want to sue the buyer. What is clear is that I don’t have any legitimate interest in the outcome so I would not have “standing” to sue the seller for the buyer or vice versa. I have no claim. I have no legitimate interest in that outcome. I have no “standing.” Neither would any of my other neighbors. So if I was to sue, the court would likely throw me out of court for not having standing. I would have to show that I have some legitimate interest and that burden is on me to show.
So before a person can sue they need to consider if they can demonstrate an interest in the matter and that they have “standing” to sue. The law in Oklahoma specifically says “a party must have a sufficient interest in a justiciable controversy.” A lawyer knowledgeable in Open Meeting Act lawsuits knows this and can make sure to draft the pleadings in such a way as to demonstrate “standing” or can suggest adding a plaintiff who can more easily show an interest in the outcome. Additionally, the Open Meeting Act provides for a very broad range of types of Plaintiffs who have standing to sue so do not be afraid to reach out to an experienced lawyer and hold your local government accountable.
With that background, you are ready to move onto the legal part of this post. Click here to read Part 2.