Parens Patriae Standing of Attorneys General: A Case of Mistaken Identity

By Jennifer L. Pratt

This article explores the standing of state attorneys general to bring actions to protect the quasi-sovereign interests of their states and citizenries. Known as parens patriae, this form of standing is unique to the sovereign and began as a strictly common law concept, but has been codified in state and federal statutes alike. The article explores the historical development of parens patriae, and the test for determining whether an asserted interest is “quasi-sovereign” as articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Alfred L. Snapp & Son, Inc., v. Puerto Rico, 458 U.S. 592 (1982). The article concludes by offering some practical suggestions for avoiding the pitfalls that often arise when settlement negotiations – especially those arising out of antitrust cases and investigations – address the issue of parens patriaeauthority.