In an action brought against a governmental entity, a complaining party must have suffered something more than a general concern or disagreement with a policy, the Court of Appeals held today. The holding extends to suits brought under Indiana statutes which expressly state who may bring a claim arising under the law.
In Klosinski v. Cordry Sweetwater Conservatory District, No. 07A01-1008-PL-429, the plaintiff complained that a county conservatory district was acting outside of its statutory duties and had failed to construct sanitary sewer facilities and keep the community lakes’ coves free of sediment. The plaintiffs lived within the district and the trial court found that they had standing to sue because “[t]he Klosinskis own property in the District; they and their property are subject to and affected by the District’s rules and regulations; and they pay assessments or fees for the services provided by the District.” After denying most of the plaintiff’s requests for injunctions, the trial court issued a general injunction against the conservatory, prohibiting it from establishing or enforcing any rule that does not further its statutory purpose, an issue the defendant conceded. Both parties appealed.
On appeal, the district challenged the plaintiffs’ standing to sue on the grounds that they had not been aggrieved by any actions of the district and the plaintiffs appealed the denial of several requested injunctions. In deciding the issue of standing, the Court of Appeals looked to the language of the statute which described the parties who may sue. The statute states that “[a]n interested person adversely affected by an action committed or omitted by the board in violation of this chapter may petition the court having jurisdiction over the district to enjoin or mandate the board.” After noting that no case had yet interpreted the phrase “[a]n interested person adversely affected,” the Court followed Huffman v. Office of Envtl. Adjudication, 811 N.E.2d 806 (Ind. 2004), which interpreted similar language in a different statute. The court in Huffman interpreted the phrase “aggrieved or adversely affected” and found that “to be ‘aggreived or adversely affected,’ a person must have suffered or be likely to suffer in the immediate future harm to a legal interest, be it a pecuniary, property, or personal interest.” After noting that the Klosinskis had identified “no specific controversy with the District,” the Court concluded that “[o]ur supreme court recognized in Huffman that general standing principles are inapplicable where a statute identifies who may pursue an administrative proceeding,” and that “[t]o be ‘adversely affected,’ the Klosinskis must have more than a generalized concern. They must identify a specific harm to a pecuniary, property, or personal interest. Simply arguing they are taxpayers is insufficient.” The Court reversed the trial court’s determination that the plaintiffs had standing to sue and affirmed its denial of injunctions.
In an opinion dissenting in part and concurring in part, Judge Baker expressed dissatisfaction with the Court’s determination that the plaintiffs were not an aggrieved party, as described in the statute, because as a resident of the district in question, they are directly affected by the actions of the conservatory and should be able to bring a claim against such an entity.