Supreme Court Rules Plaintiffs Without Standing May Sue

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a collection agency that has no pecuniary stake in a case may sue on behalf of its customers.

The Court's 5-4 decision contradicts a basic legal tenet, that courts may only hear cases if plaintiffs have standing to sue--that is, if they suffer injuries as a result of the defendant's conduct.

In the case before the Court, APCC Services Inc. is suing to collect from Sprint Communications Co. and AT&T Inc. for coinless long-distance calls made on payphones.

APCC provides billing and collection services on behalf of payphone service providers.

Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer ruled that APCC, which intends give any money awarded in the lawsuit to payphone service providers, may pursue the claim against Sprint and AT&T.

A court of appeals had earlier ruled that the case could move forward, reasoning that the payphone providers had transferred the claims to the collection agency and financed APCC's lawsuit. Breyer agreed, explaining that courts have, for centuries, allowed plaintiffs who have been assigned compensation claims to file suit.

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, arguing that APCC has "nothing to gain from their lawsuit," and therefore, under settled principles of law, the Court must dismiss the complaint. The other dissenting justices were Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.

Last year, the Court ruled that payphone companies who hadn't received due compensation from long-distance carriers could sue for damages.