by Rachel Greifenkamp
Chris Cabral and Nancy Tarsitano v. City of Evansville, Indiana
(Federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, June 25, 2014)
In April of 2013 the West Side Christian Church in Evansville, Indiana submitted an application to the City’s Engineer’s Office seeking permission to erect thirty-one six-foot plastic crosses on a 1.5-mile-long public riverfront for two weeks in August of 2013. The city denied the permit originally because the display was intended to be decorated with phrases like “Jesus saves,” which was against the City municipal code regarding “First Amendment signs.” When the permit was resubmitted without the religious phrases, the Board of Public Works approved the display contingent on a disclaimer being placed on either end of the display saying that it was not endorsed by the City of Evansville.
In June 2013 Cabral and Tarsitano (plaintiffs) filed a complaint against Evansville challenging the display as violating the Establishment Clause, and requested a preliminary injunction preventing the installation of the crosses. The church then filed a motion to intervene in July. The district court entered an injunction holding that, “the City’s approval of this display of crosses constitutes an impermissible endorsement of religion that violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” The city did not appeal the decision. The church, however, filed a timely appeal arguing that the display did not violate the Establishment Clause and that instead the injunction violates the church’s First Amendment rights.
Rather than address the First Amendment issues, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the church lacked standing to pursue its appeal. There are three requirements that must be met in order for a litigant to have standing: (1) they must have suffered an actual or imminent injury in fact, (2) the injury must be traceable to the challenged action, and (3) it must be likely, not just speculative, that the injury will be redressed by the court returning a favorable decision. Standing does not exist in this appeal primarily due to the fact that even if the court were to overturn the district court’s decision, it is only speculative as to whether the “injury” suffered by the church would be redressed because the City of Evansville might deny the permit for a number of reasons. Such speculation as to future events is not enough to support a claim of standing “[S]tanding requires that it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.
In addition, the only party expressly bound by the injunction – the city of Evansville – did not appeal the lower court decision and was not a party to the church’s appeal. A judgment will not be altered on appeal in favor of a party who did not appeal, even if the interests of the party not appealing are aligned with those of the appellant.
For these reasons, the church’s appeal was dismissed for lack of standing.