We're People Too: Corporation Have Standing to File CEQA Citizen Suits

Corporations now have the ability to file citizen suits to assert public interests without facing heightened scrutiny by the courts. The California Supreme Court ruled that a coalition of plastic bag manufacturers and distributors (“Plaintiff”) had standing to maintain a citizen suit to vindicate the asserted public interest in environmental quality. This means more generally that a corporation has greater freedom to bring a CEQA-based citizen suit to further the public interest in environmental quality. Additionally, the court ruled that any corporation or business interest whose operations are directly affected by a government project has standing in their own right to raise a CEQA challenge.

In 2008, the City of Manhattan Beach passed an ordinance banning retailers from providing plastic bags to customers at the point of sale. The ordinance adopted a Negative Declaration based on the findings of an Initial Environmental Study made in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). This Negative Declaration stated the initial environmental study had determined that banning plastic bags was not an action involving any significant impact on the environment. Plaintiff then filed suit for a writ of mandate, asking the court to bar the city from enforcing the ordinance until it prepared an environmental impact report. Plaintiff claimed it had standing to bring the suit because its public rights were at stake and its objective was that “of an interested citizen seeking to procure enforcement of … public duties.” The court ultimately held the Plaintiff had standing to sue, but rejected its claims on the merits.

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