Fossil fuel corporations facing a slew of climate accountability lawsuits from municipalities and states are fighting vigorously to have the cases litigated in federal rather than state courts. Here is where the lawsuits stand* heading into December 2020:
* Procedural updates based on info from the Center for Climate Integrity. CCI case status chart last updated Nov. 19, 2020.
Baltimore v. BP et al.
Case brought by the City of Baltimore against nearly two-dozen fossil fuel producers is currently being briefed in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted the fossil fuel defendants’ petition on Oct. 2 to review a wonky procedural question – specifically whether appellate courts can review an entire order sending (or remanding) a case back to state court, or whether that review is limited to two narrow exceptions. The fossil fuel companies (brief filed Nov. 16) argue that the appellate review of remand orders should not be limited, and further urge the Supreme Court to determine the case belongs in federal court. So far two federal courts – a district court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals – rejected the companies’ federal jurisdiction arguments and sent (remanded) the case to Maryland state court where it was originally filed. The case had been proceeding in state court but is currently paused pending the Supreme Court resolution and pending another Supreme Court case (Ford Motor case) involving personal jurisdiction disputes. Baltimore will next file its brief in the Supreme Court. The Court will hear the case on January 19, 2021.
Boulder County et al. v. Suncor and Exxon
Case currently paused (stayed) in Colorado state court pending the outcome of the Ford Motor case in the Supreme Court on personal jurisdiction issues. The city and county of Boulder and the county of San Miguel in Colorado sued ExxonMobil and Suncor entities over climate damages in April 2018 in Colorado state court. A battle over federal vs. state court jurisdiction followed, and both a federal district judge and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the case belongs in state court. A state court judge heard arguments on the companies’ motion to dismiss on June 1, 2020.
Charleston v. Brabham Oil Co. et al.
Case currently being briefed on a motion to stay (pause) proceedings pending resolution of Baltimore’s case in the Supreme Court. The city of Charleston, South Carolina sued 24 petroleum firms on Sept. 9, 2020 in South Carolina state court alleging the companies engaged in campaigns of deception to publicly downplay climate risks; the lawsuit seeks to hold the companies – including big names like BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell – liable for costly climate impacts facing this southern coastal city like extreme flooding and coastal erosion due to sea level rise. It is the first climate lawsuit brought against the fossil fuel industry by a city in the American South.
Connecticut v. ExxonMobil
Case currently being briefed in federal court after Exxon moved the case there in October. The state of Connecticut sued ExxonMobil on September 14 in Connecticut state court under a state consumer protection law called the Unfair Trade Practices Act, alleging Exxon misled Connecticut consumers and deceived the public on climate risks stemming from fossil fuels. Connecticut is the fifth state to bring a climate accountability lawsuit against Exxon; the case is in the very early procedural stages. Exxon argued in a recent brief filed in federal court (U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut) that it doesn’t sell gas in the state, claiming the company’s branded gas stations are independently operated, and therefore the state lacks personal jurisdiction over Exxon. Connecticut will respond next and the state is expected to request the court send (remand) the case back to state court. The state’s motion to remand is expected by December 2, 2020.
Delaware v. BP et al.
Case currently being briefed in federal court after Chevron and other fossil fuel defendants moved the case there in October. Delaware (via Attorney General Kathy Jennings) brought this lawsuit against 30 fossil fuel firms and the American Petroleum Institute – Big Oil’s largest lobby and trade association – alleging they engaged in campaigns of deception to undermine climate science and downplay the risks of fossil fuels. The lawsuit was filed September 10, 2020 in Delaware Superior Court (a state court) and includes a claim alleging violation of Delaware’s Consumer Fraud Act. The companies are expected to argue the case is not actually about fraud, but about global emissions and therefore it belongs in a federal forum. Delaware filed a motion to remand in November explaining the case does not raise federal issues and should be litigated in state court. The remand issue is expected to be fully briefed by April 2021.
District of Columbia v. ExxonMobil et al.
Case is currently pending in federal court (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia) on the issue of remand, or whether the lawsuit belongs in state or federal court. DC filed the case in DC Superior Court (state court) on June 25, 2020 alleging major oil companies violated the DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act for their deceptive conduct on communicating the risks of climate change. As with the other climate accountability lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, the industry defendants are fighting to push the case to federal courts where they see an easy path to dismissal. DC filed a motion to remand to state court, and this motion has now been fully briefed.
Hoboken v. ExxonMobil et al.
Case currently being briefed in federal court (U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey) after fossil fuel defendants moved the case there on Oct. 9, 2020. The city of Hoboken, NJ sued a handful of major fossil fuel companies plus the American Petroleum Institute on September 2, 2020 in New Jersey state court to hold the companies accountable for climate impacts and related costs. The lawsuit includes allegations of deception and a legal claim under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, a state law. The fossil fuel defendants argue the case invokes federal laws and should be in federal court. Hoboken is expected to file a motion to remand to state court. The remand issue will be fully briefed by the end of February 2021. The Supreme Court ruling in Baltimore’s climate case could impact the procedural track of cases like Hoboken’s that are just beginning the state vs. federal court tug-of-war.
Honolulu v. Sunoco et al.
Case currently paused in federal court until a similar Hawaiian climate case brought by Maui finishes briefing on the remand issue. The city and county of Honolulu sued major oil companies in March 2020 alleging their deceptive conduct has exacerbated climate impacts; case filed in Hawaii state court. The oil companies moved the case to federal court. Honolulu moved to remand back to state court. The remand issue has been fully briefed but the court paused proceedings to allow a case brought by Maui County in October to complete briefing on this same issue. The Maui case briefing will finish by January 20, 2021.
King County v. BP et al.
Case paused (stayed) pending the outcome of the Ford Motor case in the Supreme Court on personal jurisdiction. King County, Wash. (home to Seattle) sued five major oil companies in May 2018 in state court to hold them accountable for climate impacts. Fossil fuel defendants moved the case to federal court, though it has been on hold since October 2018. The case is still paused as similar climate tort cases, particularly one brought by Oakland and San Francisco targeting the same five defendants with similar legal claims - wind their way through the courts.
Massachusetts v. ExxonMobil
Case currently proceeding in state court, where Exxon is trying to get the lawsuit dismissed. Massachusetts brought its climate fraud case on October 24, 2019 alleging Exxon misled the state’s consumers and investors on climate risks in violation of the state’s consumer protection law. Exxon first unsuccessfully moved the case to federal court; now the oil major is arguing the case should be thrown out in state court. Massachusetts is opposing Exxon’s motion to dismiss. The court has not yet made the arguments (briefings) public; full briefing on the motion to dismiss will finish by December 18, 2020.
Maui v. Sunoco et al.
Case currently being briefed in federal court after fossil fuel defendants moved the case there on Oct. 30. The County of Maui in Hawaii filed a climate accountability lawsuit on Oct. 12, 2020 against major fossil fuel companies, similar to the case brought earlier this year by Honolulu. Maui filed its case in Hawaii state court, but the companies are fighting to have the case in federal court. Maui is expected to file a motion to remand its lawsuit back to state court. Briefing on the remand issue will complete by January 20, 2021.
Minnesota v. American Petroleum Institute et al.
Case currently completing briefing in federal court on the motion to remand. Minnesota filed its climate fraud case (alleging violation of state laws) in Minnesota state court on June 24, 2020 targeting Exxon, API, and Koch Industries. The oil industry defendants moved the case to federal court, and Minnesota moved to remand back to state court. Briefing on the remand motion will finish by December 21, 2020.
New York City v. BP et al.
Case currently awaiting a decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on NYC’s appeal of a federal district court’s dismissal of its case against five major oil companies. New York City sued BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell in January 2018 seeking monetary damages to help pay for climate impacts. NYC originally sued in federal court, and the federal district judge dismissed the case – precisely the outcome that fossil fuel defendants are striving for in all of the other climate accountability lawsuits. NYC appealed the order to dismiss, and the case is still pending in the appeals court.
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations v. Chevron et al.
Case had been paused after being moved to federal court; case management conference scheduled for December 16, 2020. This lawsuit is the single one (so far) not brought by a government entity, rather by a commercial fishing association on the West Coast suffering reduced crab catches due to warming oceans. The fishermen’s association sued major fossil fuel companies to hold them liable for climate impacts (like rising ocean temperatures) stemming from their fossil fuel products. The case was filed in California state court, but the companies moved it to federal court. The case had been paused pending resolution of appeals on federal vs. state court jurisdiction in similar climate cases brought by California municipalities.
Rhode Island v. Chevron et al.
Case currently paused (stayed) in state court pending outcome of cases involving personal jurisdiction issues in the U.S. Supreme Court and Rhode Island Supreme Court. Rhode Island was the first state to sue fossil fuel producers over local climate impacts, filing its case in Rhode Island state court in July 2018. The fossil fuel defendants tried to punt the case to federal court, but the federal district court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals both ruled the case belongs in state court. Briefing (including a motion to dismiss) had begun this year in Rhode Island state court, though the case is on hold for now.
San Mateo et al. v. Chevron et al.
Cases currently paused while fossil fuel defendants file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, with Supreme Court petition filed by Nov. 30. A handful of coastal California cities and counties are suing oil companies over the costs of adapting to sea level rise and other climate impacts. This litigation was filed in 2017 (and early 2018) in California state courts, and the lawsuits were embroiled in the federal vs. state court battle – with the federal district court and federal appeals court (9th Circuit) both deciding the suits belong in state court. The oil companies asked the 9th Circuit appeals court to reconsider its ruling, but the court refused. Now the companies are taking their fight to the Supreme Court.
San Francisco and Oakland v. BP et al.
Case currently before the federal district court for reconsideration of the district judge’s decision that there is federal jurisdiction; case management conference scheduled for Dec. 16, 2020. Oakland and San Francisco sued the big five oil companies in September 2017 seeking to recover costs associated with climate impacts. The companies moved the case to federal court, and the federal district judge initially dismissed the case in June 2018. Oakland and San Francisco appealed, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals revived the case and ruled in the cities’ favor in May 2020. The appeals court found there were no federal issues and sent the case back to the district court for the judge to reconsider his decision that the case belongs in federal court.
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