Oil Companies Demand Re-Hearings in Bid to Keep California Climate Cases From Advancing in State Courts
Fossil fuel companies defending against climate liability lawsuits filed by California communities are asking the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider recent rulings favoring the California plaintiffs looking to advance their cases in state courts.
The companies want these cases in federal courts where they see an easier path to dismissal, as federal judges have tossed several climate change lawsuits including suits brought by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, revived the Oakland and San Francisco cases in a ruling on May 26, 2020 finding that there were no federal issues raised. The appeals court issued a separate decision that day in climate lawsuits brought by San Mateo County and several other California communities, finding that those cases should proceed in California state courts, as federal District Judge Vince Chhabria previously ruled. Both of these May 26 decisions were issued by a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court.
The fossil fuel companies filed two petitions on July 9 requesting re-hearings, essentially asking for a do-over in a desperate bid to stop the cases from moving forward in state courts, where they would be on track towards discovery and trial. The lawsuits allege the companies knew for over half a century about the dangers of burning fossil fuels and that they actively worked to undermine climate science and deceive the public to protect their profits. California communities are demanding monetary damages to help pay for costs relating to climate change impacts like sea level rise and coastal flooding, costs estimated in the billions of dollars.
Similar lawsuits have been filed by the state of Rhode Island, a commercial fishing association, and local governments across the country. Despite attempts by the fossil fuel companies to remove the cases to federal courts, several federal district courts and now three federal appeals courts have decided that state courts are the proper forums. The companies, however, continue to insist the cases must be heard in federal courts even as the cases are starting to proceed in state courts anyway. In a lawsuit brought by Baltimore, for example, the case is currently working its way through Maryland state court while the fossil fuel companies have a petition pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.