The New York Court of Appeals, the State’s highest court, had recent occasion to reiterate and clarify the law governing the legal standing of individuals to sue for environmental harms within the context of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”).

By way of brief background, there is a two-part test under New York law for determining whether someone has a sufficient interest in and connection to the subject matter of a SEQRA determination to permit that person to challenge the determination in court. First, a petitioner must show an injury in fact, which means that the complaining party must be actually and directly harmed by the challenged action, beyond conjecture or speculation, in some way that is different in kind and degree from that of the public at large. Although an injury in fact may be inferred from a showing of close proximity of the petitioner’s property to the subject development or structure, what a court may consider to be “close proximity” sufficient for standing purposes will vary from case to case. Second, the injury must fall within the zone of interests sought to be promoted or protected by the controlling statute. Under SEQRA, the alleged injury must be environmental as opposed to economic.

In Sierra Club v. Village of Painted Post, 26 N.Y.3d 301 (2015), the Village had entered into a lease with a railroad company for the construction of a water transloading facility and a bulk water sales agreement to supply the facility. Nearby residents and a number of environmental groups challenged the agreements by arguing that the Village failed to review properly all potential, significant, adverse environmental impacts of the project.

The lower court held that almost all of the petitioners lacked standing because, as the lower court found, their concerns about noise and water quality were generic harms of concern to the public at large and were not unique to the individual petitioners.

However, the lower court ruled that one petitioner had standing because he alleged he could see the loading facility from his house and that noise from the trains allegedly kept him awake at night. Insofar as the remaining petitioner was concerned, the Appellate Division disagreed and found that he was no different from anyone else who lived near the train tracks, thereby rendering his alleged injury no different from that of the public at large and depriving him of standing to assert his claims.

The Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division, holding that it does not matter that more than one person is directly impacted by the complained-of activity, such as noise created from increased train traffic. The Court of Appeals observed that the reasoning employed by the Appellate Division was “overly restrictive” because it would effectively “shield a particular action from judicial review” simply because other nearby residents are also injured. The fact that the particularized environmental harm is shared does not necessarily mean that it is one of generic public concern. In reiterating its long-standing principle that the standing rules should not be applied in a “heavy-handed” manner to deprive aggrieved persons the opportunity for their claims to be heard on the merits, the Court of Appeals held that the remaining petitioner had standing to assert his claims and remanded the case for further proceedings.

The take-away lesson, in short, is that alleged environmental harms resulting from a SEQRA determination are not necessarily matters of generic public concern for which there is no standing to sue solely because other people in the local area suffer the same alleged injuries. By reminding lower courts that the procedural rules of standing should not be applied in an overly restrictive manner, the Court of Appeals’ decision in Sierra Club v. Village of Painted Post will serve as further precedent in support of the disposition of environmental impact review disputes not on procedural grounds but on their substantive merits.

Related Attorneys
The following materials, and all other materials on this website, are intended for informational purposes only, are not to be construed as either legal advice or as advertising by Cuddy & Feder LLP or any of its attorneys, and do not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Cuddy & Feder LLP. Please seek the advice of an attorney before relying on any information contained herein.


445 Hamilton Avenue
14th Floor
White Plains, NY 10601

T 914.761.1300
F 914.761.5372

New York City

270 Madison Avenue
Suite 1801
New York, NY 10016

T 914.761.1300
F 914.761.5372

Hudson Valley

300 Westage
Business Center
Suite 380
Fishkill, NY 12524

T 845.896.2229
F 845.896.3672


243 Tresser Blvd.
17th Floor
Stamford, CT 06901

T 203.969.9060