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Pennsylvania Standing Rule

Finding that an asbestos plaintiff defending a motion for summary judgment has standing to facially challenge the constitutionality of a liability-capping statute on dormant Commerce Clause and Equal Protection grounds, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently clarified the role of the “zone of interest” inquiry within the familiar “direct-immediate-substantial” test for standing. Johnson  v. American Standard, __Pa. __, 8 A. 3d 318 (2010).

When defendant Crown Cork, which had acquired an asbestos producer (and thereby its potential liability for asbestos-related claims), sought summary judgment invoking a state statute that capped asbestos-related liability for Pennsylvania successor corporations to the fair market value of the acquired asbestos producer at the time of acquisition, plaintiff defended by alleging that the statute was unconstitutional because it created unlawful economic protectionism by conferring benefits on domestic corporations but not out-of-state competitors.  Crown Cork responded that the plaintiff lacked standing to attack the statute on those grounds because he was not an out-of-state competitor of Crown Cork and thus not within the zone of interests protected by the dormant Commerce Clause.  The trial court granted summary judgment and an en banc Superior Court affirmed, finding that plaintiff lacked standing.

Reversing, the Supreme Court acknowledged that its precedent was unclear on when and how the “zone of interest” test is to be used in standing inquiries, and held that it is to be used only when the “immediacy” requirement of the traditional three part standing test is not clearly met, and then should be used as a guideline only, not an absolute test.  Applied to the facts presented, the Court held that the asbestos plaintiff clearly had a direct, immediate and substantial interest in initially bringing suit to recover for asbestos-related injuries, and that potential dismissal of his action based solely on the challenged statute similarly gave him a direct, immediate, and substantial interest in challenging the statute, even though the constitutional grounds raised for invalidating the statute admittedly pertained to out-of-state corporations, not the plaintiff.  Accordingly, the Court held, the “zone of interest” test did not need to be applied in order to assist in the standing inquiry.

Suggested further reading:  Darlington, McKeon, Schuckers and Brown, Pennsylvania Appellate Practice 2010-2011 (West) § 501:15.

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