It's about Time: Unraveling Standing and Equitable Ripeness

60 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2009

See all articles by Laura E. Little

Laura E. Little

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: 1993


In this article, Professor Laura Little analyzes City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95 (1983), in which the United States Supreme Court held that Lyons, an individual who had been choked to unconsciousness during a traffic stop, did not have standing to seek injunctive relief against the Los Angeles Police Department's chokehold policy because of his failure to show a threat of real and imminent future harm. Professor Little criticizes Lyons's holding for its conflation of jurisdictional and remedial inquiries, as well as its implication that a defendant must make separate showings of standing for each type of relief sought. In the first few sections of this article, Professor Little argues that the Supreme Court's standing analysis in Lyons is unnecessarily severe, as it requires a federal court to make a crucial remedial decision at the threshold of litigation, before the factual bases of a claim are fully established. Professor Little also demonstrates that upfront analysis of the appropriateness of an equitable remedy fails to further any of the values underlying the standing doctrine. Professor Little concludes the first part of this article with suggestions of ways courts can make threshold determinations regarding standing and justiciability without reference to the type of relief requested.

Next, Professor Little addresses how a court should analyze whether to issue an injunction - once all of the facts have been established. After explaining that equity theory requires a showing of irreparable injury and equitable ripeness before an injunction can issue, Professor Little notes that courts have traditionally conjoined their analyses of the two factors, i.e., requiring plaintiffs to show that that the risk of irreparable harm is also imminent. Professor Little argues that the two factors should be analyzed separately, as the practical consequences of a court refusing relief based on lack of irreparable injury can be quite different from those resulting from a denial of relief based on lack of imminence (which she refers to as equitable ripeness). Finally, she argues that equitable ripeness should not be used simply as a means of deciding whether to grant or deny injunctive relief; instead, courts should weigh ripeness along with other circumstances in a particular case to determine the type of relief that would be appropriate, as issues of timing and probability of harm may greatly affect the balancing required for the decision of what type of relief would be appropriate in a particular case.

Keywords: justiciability, Article III jurisdiction, standing doctrine, injunction, equitable relief, prospective relief, civil rights, remedies, federalism, federal courts, federal jurisdiction, likelihood of harm, immediacy of harm, imminence, ripeness

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K30, K39, K40, K49

Suggested Citation

Little, Laura E., It's about Time: Unraveling Standing and Equitable Ripeness (1993). Buffalo Law Review, Vol. 41, p. 933, 1993. Available at SSRN:

Laura E. Little (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-8955 (Phone)
215-204-1185 (Fax)

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