412 U.S. 669 (1973)


Decided June 18, 1973.

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under the Interstate Commerce Act, the initiative for rate increases remains with the railroads. But in the absence of special permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission, a railroad seeking an increase must provide at least 30 days' notice to the Commission and the public before putting the new rate into effect.  During that 30-day period, the Commission may suspend the operation of the proposed rate for a maximum of seven months pending an investigation and decision on the lawfulness of the new rates.  At the end of the seven-month period, the carrier may put the suspended rate into effect unless the Commission has earlier completed its investigation and found the rate unlawful.

Proceeding under this regulatory scheme, on December 13, 1971, substantially all of the railroads in the United States requested Commission authorization to file on 5 days' notice a 2.5% surcharge on nearly all freight rates.... As justification for the proposed surcharge, the railroads alleged increasing costs and severely inadequate revenues....

The Commission authorized the railroads to refile the 2.5% surcharge with not less than 30 days' notice, and an effective date no earlier than February 5, 1972. On January 5, 1972, the railroads refiled the surcharge, to become effective on February 5, 1972.

Various environmental groups, including Students Challenging Regulatory Agency Procedures (SCRAP) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), two of the appellees here, protested that failure to suspend the surcharge would cause their members "economic, recreational and aesthetic harm...."

The Commission issued an order on February 1, 1972, shortly before the surcharge would have automatically become effective. It recognized that "the railroads have a critical need for additional revenue from their interstate freight rates and charges to offset, in part, recently incurred increased operating costs," and announced its decision not to suspend the 2.5% surcharge for the seven-month statutory period....

On May 12, 1972, SCRAP filed the present suit against the United States and the Commission in the District Court for the District of Columbia seeking, along with other relief, a preliminary injunction to restrain enforcement of the Commission's February 1 and April 24 orders allowing the railroads to collect the 2.5% surcharge.

SCRAP stated in its amended complaint that it was "an unincorporated association formed by five law students . . . in September, 1971. Its primary purpose is to enhance the quality of the human environment for its members, and for all citizens . . . ." To establish standing to bring this suit, SCRAP repeated many of the allegations it had made before the Commission. It claimed that each of its members "suffered economic, recreational and aesthetic harm directly as a result of the adverse environmental impact of the railroad freight structure." Specifically, SCRAP alleged that each of its members was caused to pay more for finished products, that each of its members "[u]ses the forests, rivers, streams, mountains, and other natural resources surrounding the Washington Metropolitan area and at his legal residence, for camping, hiking, fishing, sightseeing, and other recreational [and] aesthetic purposes," and that these uses have been adversely affected by the increased freight rates, that each of its members breathes the air within the Washington metropolitan area and the area of his legal residence and that this air has suffered increased pollution caused by the modified rate structure, and that each member has been forced to pay increased taxes because of the sums which must be expended to dispose of otherwise reusable waste materials.

The main thrust of SCRAP's complaint was that the Commission's decisions of February 1 and April 24, insofar as they declined to suspend the 2.5% surcharge, were unlawful because the Commission had failed to include a detailed environmental impact statement as required by 102 (2) (C) of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). NEPA requires such a statement in "every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment . . . ."  SCRAP contended that because of its alleged adverse impact upon recycling, the Commission's action with respect to the surcharge constituted a major federal action significantly affecting the environment....

The appellants challenge the appellees' standing to sue, arguing that the allegations in the pleadings as to standing  were vague, unsubstantiated, and insufficient under our recent decision in Sierra Club v. Morton, supra. The appellees respond that unlike the petitioner in Sierra Club, their pleadings sufficiently alleged that they were "adversely affected" or "aggrieved" within the meaning of 10 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and they point specifically to the allegations that their members used the forests, streams, mountains, and other resources in the Washington metropolitan area for camping, hiking, fishing, and sightseeing, and that this use was disturbed by the adverse environmental impact caused by the nonuse of recyclable goods brought about by a rate increase on those commodities. The District Court found these allegations sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. We agree....

In interpreting "injury in fact" we made it clear that standing was not confined to those who could show "economic harm." Nor, we said, could the fact that many persons shared the same injury be sufficient reason to disqualify from seeking review of an agency's action any person who had in fact suffered injury. Rather, we explained: "Aesthetic and environmental well-being, like economic well-being, are important ingredients of the quality of life in our society, and the fact that particular environmental interests are shared by the many rather than the few does not make them less deserving of legal protection through the judicial process." Consequently, neither the fact that the appellees here claimed only a harm to their use and enjoyment of the natural resources of the Washington area, nor the fact that all those who use those resources suffered the same harm, deprives them of standing.

In Sierra Club, though, we went on to stress the importance of demonstrating that the party seeking review be himself among the injured, for it is this requirement that gives a litigant a direct stake in the controversy and prevents the judicial process from becoming no more than a vehicle for the vindication of the value interests of concerned bystanders. No such specific injury was alleged in Sierra Club. In that case the asserted harm "will be felt directly only by those who use Mineral King and Sequoia National Park, and for whom the aesthetic and recreational values of the area will be lessened by the highway and ski resort,"  yet "[t]he Sierra Club failed to allege that it or its members would be affected in any of their activities or pastimes by the . . . development." Here, by contrast, the appellees claimed that the specific and allegedly illegal action of the Commission would directly harm them in their use of the natural resources of the Washington Metropolitan Area.

Unlike the specific and geographically limited federal action of which the petitioner complained in Sierra Club, the challenged agency action in this case is applicable to substantially all of the Nation's railroads, and thus allegedly has an adverse environmental impact on all the natural resources of the country. Rather than a limited group of persons who used a picturesque valley in California, all persons who utilize the scenic resources of the country, and indeed all who breathe its air, could claim harm similar to that alleged by the environmental groups here. But we have already made it clear that standing is not to be denied simply because many people suffer the same injury.....

But the injury alleged here is also very different from that at issue in Sierra Club because here the alleged injury to the environment is far less direct and perceptible. The petitioner there complained about the construction of a specific project that would directly affect the Mineral King Valley. Here, the Court was asked to follow a far more attenuated line of causation to the eventual injury of which the appellees complained - a general rate increase would allegedly cause increased use of nonrecyclable commodities as compared to recyclable goods, thus resulting in the need to use more natural resources to produce such goods, some of which resources might be taken from the Washington area, and resulting in more refuse that might be discarded in national parks in the Washington area. The railroads protest that the appellees could never prove that a general increase in rates would have this effect, and they contend that these allegations were a ploy to avoid the need to show some injury in fact.

Of course, pleadings must be something more than an ingenious academic exercise in the conceivable. A plaintiff must allege that he has been or will in fact be perceptibly harmed by the challenged agency action, not that he can imagine circumstances in which he could be affected by the agency's action. And it is equally clear that the allegations must be true and capable of proof at trial. But we deal here simply with the pleadings in which the appellees alleged a specific and perceptible harm that distinguished them from other citizens who had not used the natural resources that were claimed to be affected. If, as the railroads now assert, these allegations were in fact untrue, then the appellants should have moved for summary judgment on the standing issue and demonstrated to the District Court that the allegations were sham and raised no genuine issue of fact. We cannot say on these pleadings that the appellees could not prove their allegations which, if proved, would place them squarely among those persons injured in fact by the Commission's action, and entitled under the clear import of Sierra Club to seek review. The District Court was correct in denying the appellants' motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to allege sufficient standing to bring this lawsuit....

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST join, dissenting in part.

I would reverse the judgment of the District Court and order the complaint dismissed because appellees lack standing to bring this suit. None of our cases, including inferences that may be drawn from dicta in Sierra Club v. Morton (1972), where we denied standing to petitioner there, are sufficient to confer standing on plaintiffs in circumstances like these. The allegations here do not satisfy the threshold requirement of injury in fact for constituting a justiciable case or controversy. The injury alleged is that the failure of the Commission to suspend a 2.5% freight rate increase may discourage the transportation of recyclable materials, thus retarding the use of recycled materials, causing further consumption of our forests and natural resources (some of which might be taken from the Washington metropolitan area), and resulting in more refuse and undisposable materials to further pollute the environment.

The majority acknowledges that these allegations reflect an "attenuated line of causation," but is willing to suspend its judgment in the dim hope that proof at trial will in some unexplained way flesh them out and establish the necessary nexus between these appellees and the across-the-board rate increase they complain of. To me, the alleged injuries are so remote, speculative, and insubstantial in fact that they fail to confer standing. They become no more concrete, real, or substantial when it is added that materials will cost more at the marketplace and that somehow the freight rate increase will increase air pollution. Allegations such as these are no more substantial and direct and no more qualify these appellees to litigate than allegations of a taxpayer that governmental expenditures will increase his taxes and have an impact on his pocketbook, or allegations that governmental decisions are offensive to reason or morals. The general "right, possessed by every citizen, to require that the Government be administered according to law and that the public moneys be not wasted" does not confer standing to litigate in federal courts....

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