Could You Sue for Your Friend or Relative as a “Next Friend”?

Posted on: October 23, 2012 by: admin

As an alternative basis for standing to maintain this action, petitioner purports to proceed as “next friend of Ronald Gene Simmons.” Although we have never discussed the concept 162*162 of “next friend” standing at length, it has long been an accepted basis for jurisdiction in certain circumstances. Most frequently, “next friends” appear in court on behalf of detained prisoners who are unable, usually because of mental incompetence or inaccessibility, to seek relief themselves. E. g., United States ex rel. Toth v. Quarles, 350 U. S. 11, 13, n. 3 (1955) (prisoner’s sister brought habeas corpus proceeding while he was being held in Korea). As early as the 17th century, the English Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 authorized complaints to be filed by “any one on . . . behalf” of detained persons, see 31 Car. II, ch. 2, and in 1704 the House of Lords resolved “[t]hat every Englishman, who is imprisoned by any authority whatsoever, has an undoubted right, by his agents, or friends, to apply for, and obtain a Writ of Habeas Corpus, in order to procure his liberty by due course of law.” See Ashby v. White, 14 How. St. Tr. 695, 814 (Q. B. 1704). Some early decisions in this country interpreted ambiguous provisions of the federal habeas corpus statute to allow “next friend” standing in connection with petitions for writs of habeas corpus, see, e. g., Collins v. Traeger, 27 F. 2d 842, 843 (CA9 1928); United States ex rel. Funaro v. Watchorn, 164 F. 152, 153 (SDNY 1908),[3] and Congress eventually codified 163*163 the doctrine explicitly in 1948. See 28 U. S. C. § 2242 (1982 ed.) (“Application for a writ of habeas corpus shall be in writing signed and verified by the person for whose relief it is intended or by someone acting in his behalf“) (emphasis added).[4]

A “next friend” does not himself become a party to the habeas corpus action in which he participates, but simply pursues the cause on behalf of the detained person, who remains the real party in interest. Morgan v. Potter, 157 U. S. 195, 198 (1895); Nash ex rel. Hashimoto v. MacArthur, 87 U. S. App. D. C. 268, 269-270, 184 F. 2d 606, 607-608 (1950), cert. denied, 342 U. S. 838 (1951). Most important for present purposes, “next friend” standing is by no means granted automatically to whomever seeks to pursue an action on behalf of another. Decisions applying the habeas corpus statute have adhered to at least two firmly rooted prerequisites for “next friend” standing. First, a “next friend” must provide an adequate explanation — such as inaccessibility, mental incompetence, or other disability — why the real party in interest cannot appear on his own behalf to prosecute the action. Wilson v. Lane, 870 F. 2d 1250, 1253 (CA7 1989), cert. pending, No. 89-81; Smith ex rel. Missouri Public Defender Comm’n v. Armontrout, 812 F. 2d 1050, 1053 (CA8), cert. denied, 483 U. S. 1033 (1987); Weber v. Garza, 570 F. 2d 511, 513-514 (CA5 1978). Second, the “next friend” must be truly dedicated to the best interests of the person on whose behalf he seeks to litigate, see, e. g., Morris v. United States, 399 F. Supp. 720, 722 (ED Va. 1975), and it has been further 164*164 suggested that a “next friend” must have some significant relationship with the real party in interest. Davis v. Austin, 492 F. Supp. 273, 275-276 (ND Ga. 1980) (minister and first cousin of prisoner denied “next friend” standing). The burden is on the “next friend” clearly to establish the propriety of his status and thereby justify the jurisdiction of the court. Smith, supra, at 1053; Groseclose ex rel. Harries v. Dutton, 594 F. Supp. 949, 952 (MD Tenn. 1984).

These limitations on the “next friend” doctrine are driven by the recognition that “[i]t was not intended that the writ of habeas corpus should be availed of, as matter of course, by intruders or uninvited meddlers, styling themselves next friends.” United States ex rel. Bryant v. Houston, 273 F. 915, 916 (CA2 1921); see also Rosenberg v. United States, 346 U. S. 273, 291-292 (1953) (Jackson, J., concurring with five other Justices) (discountenancing practice of granting “next friend” standing to one who was a stranger to the detained persons and their case and whose intervention was unauthorized by the prisoners’ counsel). Indeed, if there were no restriction on “next friend” standing in federal courts, the litigant asserting only a generalized interest in constitutional governance could circumvent the jurisdictional limits of Art. III simply by assuming the mantle of “next friend.”

Whitmore, of course, does not seek a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Simmons. He desires to intervene in a state-court proceeding to appeal Simmons’ conviction and death sentence. Under these circumstances, there is no federal statute authorizing the participation of “next friends.” The Supreme Court of Arkansas recognizes, apparently as a matter of common law, the availability of “next friend” standing in the Arkansas courts, see Franz v. State, 296 Ark., at 184, 754 S. W. 2d, at 840-841, but declined to grant it to Whitmore. Without deciding whether a “next friend” may ever invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court absent congressional authorization, we think the scope of any federal doctrine of “next friend” standing is no broader than what is 165*165 permitted by the habeas corpus statute, which codified the historical practice. And in keeping with the ancient tradition of the doctrine, we conclude that one necessary condition for “next friend” standing in federal court is a showing by the proposed “next friend” that the real party in interest is unable to litigate his own cause due to mental incapacity, lack of access to court, or other similar disability. Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 US 149, 161-165 – Supreme Court 1990

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