Thursday, August 23, 2012

Probationer Lacks Standing to Sue Alcohol Testing Company

The Eighth Circuit ruled today in Miller v. Redwood Toxicology Laboratory, Inc. that a probationer, Miller, who was wrongly determined to have consumed alcohol in violation of his probation lacked standing to sue an alcohol testing company under a state false advertising law.

The case arose out of Miller's suit against Redwood Toxicology after Redwood submitted alcohol test results that indicated that Miller consumed alcohol in violation of his probation terms.  Based on the results, Miller was taken into custody--for four-and-a-half months.  But the judge at the contested probation violation hearing ruled that the state failed to meet its burden--in part because Miller had "significant incidental exposure" to alcohol that led to the result--and ordered his release. 

Miller sued Redwood under the Minnesota False Statement in Advertising Act and common law negligence, arguing, among other things, that Redwood's test results led to his erroneous probation report, detention, lost income and work, lost liberty, and emotional harm. 

The Eighth Circuit ruled that Miller lacked standing on the False Statement claim, because he didn't sufficiently allege causation.  The court explained:

Indeed, Redwood did not file a probation violation against Miller.  It was the State that filed the probation violation and incarcerated Miller.  Too, it was the State that chose the particular test, ultimately established and implemented the cut-off levels for the probationers it tested, and interpreted the test results provided by Redwood accordingly.  The amended complaint does not and cannot allege a causal connection between Redwood's actions and any presumed injury suffered by Miller sufficient for purposes of Article III.

Op. at 9.  This holds, said the court, even though the state supreme court has said that a strict showing of causation is not required in a damages claim under the law.  Whatever the state supreme court says about standing in the state's own courts, it cannot override Article III requirements for cases in federal court.

In contrast, the court ruled that Miller did have standing on his common law claims--based on Redwood's failure to warn him of its known false positive rate when it gave Miller the results.  The court nevertheless dismissed these claims, too, though, saying that Miller failed to allege that Redwood violated its duty of care.


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