USA: Lawsuits brought against fossil-fuel companies in state courts may have a greater chance of success

Author: Dana Drugmand, Climate Liability News, Published on: 6 February 2019

…On [30 January 2019,] in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, [eight briefs were field] in support of the California communities trying to keep their climate liability lawsuits against fossil fuel companies in state court…The briefs…argue that state, not federal, court is the appropriate venue for them to be decided…The suits seek to hold more than a dozen fossil fuel companies accountable for the impacts of climate change, which science has shown is overwhelmingly driven by the burning of fossil fuels…

The communities and their supporters want the suits heard in state court, where they believe they have a better chance of success. Federal precedent has worked against communities seeking relief in federal court and similar cases brought by Oakland, San Francisco and by New York City were dismissed in federal court last year, though the cities are appealing. 

The Ninth Circuit’s decision on this batch of California cases will likely influence other climate liability cases filed by municipal governments and one state (Rhode Island). It could also either encourage or discourage new communities from filing similar suits, meaning the stakes are even higher for the industry and communities nationwide.

Some of the briefs…focused on the “federal officer” claim. This forms a main argument by the fossil fuel companies, which say that because the federal government issues permits for petroleum production, the companies are acting as “federal officers” and the suits should be heard in federal court…Other briefs focused on the role that the fossil fuel companies and their trade association allies played in deceiving the public on climate risk…

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