In order for a case to be heard by a court, the case must be "ripe" for judicial resolution. The underlying rationale of the ripeness doctrine is to prevent courts from getting entangled in disagreements that are abstract, rather than real. The Supreme Court has recognized that the ripeness doctrine requires a court to evaluate both whether the issues are fit for judicial determination and the hardship to the parties of not permitting the case to be heard.
The Two Kinds of "Ripeness"
There are two "threshold criteria" to determine if a claim is ripe. The first has its underpinnings in the Case or Controversy Clause of Article III of the Constitution, since courts are able to hear only actual "cases or controversies." The second requirement is the more flexible doctrine of judicial prudence and is an exception to the rule that courts must exercise jurisdiction if it exists. Thus, "Constitutional ripeness" is a limit on the power of the courts, while "prudential ripeness" means the case will be better decided later and that no constitutional rights will be thwarted by the delay.
Hardship as a Factor
The fitness inquiry often concerns itself with whether the matter is "ill-suited for judicial resolution," for such reasons as judicial review would only benefit by waiting or that it would be unwise to prematurely address issues that have never been decided by a court. The hardship prong of the ripeness analysis requires a court to measure the risk and severity of injury to a party if the court declines to exercise jurisdiction. Similarly, the court must consider whether and to what extent a party to the lawsuit will be made worse off on account of the delay. The hardship issue has been recognized as an "important factor."
Ripeness in Labor Relations Cases
Hardship will not be found where a plaintiff can bring his or her claims in the future.
While it is rare for ripeness to become an issue in the labor relations arena, there are a small number of cases in which it has been addressed.
The shorter the statute of limitations, the more dangerous it is to a plaintiff to find that a case is unripe, because by the time it becomes ripe, the statute of limitations may already have run. Thus, in actions for breach of the duty of fair representation, which has only a six-month statute of limitations (one of the shortest statutes of limitations under state or federal law), finding a case to be unripe can forever bar an action.
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