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." 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. 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 states and jurisdictions allows a court to declare the rights of parties under the facts as proven without actually ordering that anything be done.
The Supreme Court fashioned a two-part test for assessing ripeness challenges to federal regulations. The case is often applied to constitutional challenges to federal and state statutes as well. The Court said in Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136 (1967):
In both Abbott Laboratories and its first companion case, Toilet Goods Association v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 158 (1967), the Court upheld pre-enforcement review of an administrative regulation. However, the Court denied such review in the second companion case 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 American law.
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