What a (public) nuisance. Two climate change suits in California to stay in the state courts.

 

This blog recently discussed climate change tort suits in the US. https://iistl.blog/2020/04/15/climate-change-and-tort-the-jurisdictional-battlefield-in-the-us/  The battleground has been keeping the suits in the US state courts and stopping their removal to the federal courts. The reason goes back to two previous decisions: the decision of the Supreme Court in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, 131 S. Ct. 2527 (2011) (AEP),  and that of the Ninth Circuit in Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., 696 F.3d 849 (9th Cir. 2012), that such actions, at least when they relate to domestic GHG emissions caused by the defendant, are pre-empted by the Clean Air Act.

On 26 May 2020 the Ninth Circuit gave two favourable decisions to the municipalities claiming damages for what they estimate they will have to spend to mitigate the effects of climate change in future years. First they reversed the earlier decision in the claim brought by the City of Oakland against BP and other energy majors that the case should be removed to the federal courts. The Ninth Circuit held that the cities’ state-law claim for public nuisance did not arise under federal law and the cities’ nuisance claim did not raise “a substantial federal question.”  The Ninth Circuit rejected the companies’ argument that the Clean Air Act completely preempted the cities’ public nuisance claim and held that  the cities had not waived their arguments in favour of remand by amending their complaint to add a federal common law claim; the cities’ reservation of rights was sufficient. The case will now return to the district court to determine whether there was an alternative basis for federal jurisdiction, of the sort claimed, and rejected, in the San Mateo case.

Secondly, in the case brought by the County of San Mateo against Chevron Corp and other energy majors, the decision at first instance that the claim should not be removed from the state courts has been upheld. The Ninth Circuit held that its jurisdiction to review was limited to whether the cases were properly removed under the federal-officer removal statute and then that the companies had not proved that federal-officer removal could be invoked. under its existing precedent, it had jurisdiction to review the issue of federal-officer removal but not the portions of the remand order that considered seven other bases for removal. Conducting a de novo review of the issue of subject matter jurisdiction under the federal-officer removal statute, the Ninth Circuit found that the energy companies had not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that they were “acting under” a federal officer in any of the three agreements with the government on which the companies relied for federal-officer removal jurisdiction.

 

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