In United States law, ripeness refers to the readiness of a case for litigation; "a claim is not ripe for adjudication if it rests upon contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all"." ["Texas v. United States", [ 523 U.S. 296] , 300 (1998) (internal quotation marks omitted), quoting "Thomas v. Union Carbide Agricultural Products Co.", 473 U.S. 568, 581 (1985) (quoting 13A C. Wright, A. Miller, & E. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure §3532, p. 112 (1984)).] For example, if a law of ambiguous quality has been enacted but never applied, a case challenging that law lacks the ripeness necessary for a decision.

Ripeness represents the other side of the coin of standing, and deals with whether the defendant in a case has gone so far in his/her abusive behavior that the court has a right to hear the case. The goal is to prevent premature adjudication; if a dispute is insufficiently developed, any potential injury or stake is too speculative to warrant judicial action. Ripeness issues most usually arise when a plaintiff seeks anticipatory relief, such as an injunction. See "U.S. Public Workers v. Mitchell" (1947); "Laird v. Tatum" (1972); "Poe v. Ullman" (1961). When drafting his complaint, a plaintiff may be able to avoid dismissal on ripeness grounds by requesting alternative relief in the form of a declaratory judgment, which in many jurisdictions allows a court to declare the rights of parties under the facts as proven without actually ordering that anything be done.

The leading case on ripeness is "Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner" (1967), which fashioned a two-part test for assessing ripeness challenges to federal regulations. The case is often applied to constitutional challenges to statutes as well. The Court said in "Abbott Laboratories":

::Without undertaking to survey the intricacies of the ripeness doctrine it is fair to say that its basic rationale is to prevent the courts, through avoidance of premature adjudication, from entangling themselves in abstract disagreements over administrative policies, and also to protect the agencies from judicial interference until an administrative decision has been formalized and its effects felt in a concrete way by the challenging parties. The problem is best seen in a twofold aspect, requiring us to evaluate both the fitness of the issues for judicial decision and the hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration. ["Abbott Laboratories", 387 U.S. at 148-49.]

In both "Abbott Laboratories" and its first companion case, "Gardner v. Toilet Goods Ass'n", ussc|387|167|1967, the Court upheld pre-enforcement review of an administrative regulation. However, the Court denied such review in the second companion case, "Toilet Goods Association v. Gardner" (1967), because any harm from noncompliance with the FDA regulation at issue was too speculative in the Court's opinion to justify judicial review. Justice Harlan wrote for the Court in all three cases.

The Ripeness Doctrine should not be confused with the Advisory opinion Doctrine, another justiciability concept in U.S. law.


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