Typically you need some sort of standing like demonstrating potential damages for a court to listen to any request for action. For example, I can't bring a copyright suit for work where I do not own the copyright, even if there is an infringement occurring.

But is there any example other than S.B. 8 where (1) the general public can bring civil action, and (2) the person bringing the suit is not directly affected?

Environmental suits come to mind, but I'm not sure if a person raising environmental concerns can get away without explaining some sort of damages.

  • 1
    Only courts enforce laws, so clearly your title doesn't ask what the body of the question implies.
    – user6726
    Sep 4, 2021 at 15:14
  • @user6726 good call. It gets to the heart of how I'm confused about this. What is the appropriate term that means "able to seek damages or punishment"?
    – sharoz
    Sep 4, 2021 at 18:56
  • Drop the punishment part, since in the US only the government can punish (in the legal sense). For a civil suit, you need "standing". One problem is that the rules about standing differ across jurisdictions, the most important being that you suffered a direct injury. I don't know how to fix the title, but I think the puzzle is whether a random person in Texas "has standing", and why do they – is it simply because the legislature says they do?
    – user6726
    Sep 4, 2021 at 20:19
  • 1
    Yeah, I'm familiar with standing. Maybe a way to phrase it is: Are there other instances where a law gives a plaintiff standing despite them having no "skin in the game"?
    – sharoz
    Sep 4, 2021 at 20:55
  • 2
    California Proposition 65 permits anyone observing a violation to bring a lawsuit even if they aren't affected, but unlike S.B. 8, doesn't also forbid the government from bringing suit.
    – Mark
    Sep 8, 2021 at 3:20

2 Answers 2


This is from an opinion piece (albeit by Law profs.) so you'll have to bear/excuse the tone and check the details... but seemingly there some similar laws introduced earlier this year, on different topics though:

But the subversion of private enforcement laws to restrict individual rights goes far beyond abortion. Since the beginning of this year, Tennessee has authorized students and teachers to sue schools that allow transgender students to use the restrooms that match their gender identity; Florida has followed suit, with a law that allows students to sue schools that permit transgender girls to play on girls’ sports teams.

My opinion is that the comparison falls short on (2), as the [plaintiff] students seem to have to be from the same school, so it's not as broad as SB.8., in terms of who can sue. (N.B. found a more in-depth news article on the Florida sports law. Some of the writeups on this aren't totally clear on that though, just saying "another student" can sue. I couldn't find the exact text of the law insofar.)

The promoter of SB.8, actually gave some inspirational examples in an interview, and they are somewhat older:

And this is ground that's been ploughed before - under current Texas law under Medicaid fraud, for example. Any person who discovers Medicaid fraud can bring a civil case to bring that forward. The Chick-fil-A law, Senate Bill 1978 from last session about your religious freedom, that also allowed any person to bring a civil action. So it's not a new concept in Texas law, and if elected officials won't follow the law, we'll empower the people of Texas to do it, and we think it makes sense.

(Hat tip to a Politics.SE answer for this latter quote.) Again, I didn't check the details... I suspect there may be some divergence from the strict letter of the (1) requirement. I bet (Medicaid) fraud is criminal as well. It seems the Chick-fil-A law failed to do its (immediately) intended job because it was attempted to be used against a city municipality, but the suit was dismissed (on appeal) due to governmental immunity...

The private enforcement of the Medicaid fraud issue was apparently passed because of the huge backlog that existed at one point in the state/agency enforcement in Texas:

The Office of Inspector General was lambasted in a state review last year [2015--seemingly] for, among other things, a massive backlog of cases and a failure to recover significant tax dollars from providers it accused of fraud, sometimes incorrectly.

N.B., these are referred to as qui tam cases, but they don't quite entirely substitute the plaintiff, at least not in the insurance cases that were won:

So-called qui tam cases allow whistleblowers to file lawsuits alleging fraud on behalf of the government. If the claims turn out to be legitimate, state and federal laws award a finder’s fee of between 15 and 25 percent of the total settlement or judgment.

Interestingly higher awards are possible if the government declines to intervene, but they are still not 100% going to the private initiator (under the False Claims Act)--from Wikipedia:

If the government does not decide to participate in a qui tam action, the relator may proceed alone without the Department of Justice, though such cases historically have a much lower success rate. Relators who do prevail in such cases may potentially receive a higher relator's share, to a maximum of 30%.

As Wikipedia also notes, some such laws that entirely left the prosecution to a private entity were found unconstitutional, at the federal level e.g.

In 2011, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio held that the False Marking Statute was unconstitutional. Judge Dan Aaron Polster determined that it violated the Take Care Clause of Article II of the Constitution, because it represented "a wholesale delegation of criminal law enforcement power to private entities with no control exercised by the Department of Justice".

Of some note, the FCA requires that the complaint actually be served on the government and not the actual defendant. This basically ensures that the gov't is notified of all such actions.

The Texas-specific legislation on qui tam fraud cases actually seems to mirror the federal one pretty closely:

A whistleblower under the Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act [TMFPA] may be entitled to an award between 15% -25% if the state intervenes in the case. If the state chooses not to participate in the litigation, then a whistleblower may be entitled to an award between 25% – 30% of the amount recovered. Nonetheless, a court may reduce the award if the court finds that the action is based primarily on information disclosed by someone other than the person bringing the action. [...]

Note: Changes to the Texas laws were enacted by Acts 2015, 84th Leg., ch. 1 (S.B. 219).


I think the false claims act would qualify. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant has defrauded the federal government. The plaintiff can sue on behalf of the government and collect a percentage of the damages.

It is a useful, anti-corruption measure because in many instances the relevant government officials are part of the problem (e.g., Trump).

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