Big Oil presses Supreme Court on litigation venues for climate change lawsuits
A bunch of huge oil companies told the Supreme Court in a new brief that state and local climate lawsuits against them belong in the federal court system.
Why it matters: The brief addresses the city of Baltimore's litigation seeking damages for climate-related harms — but it's relevant to roughly a dozen similar lawsuits nationwide that plaintiffs want litigated in state courts.
What they're saying: Lawyers for BP, Chevron, Exxon, Shell and others say Baltimore is seeking damages based on interstate and international emissions over many decades.
- "Those claims fall squarely within the long line of cases holding that federal common law governs claims seeking redress for interstate air and water pollution," they write.
- They argue the cases address "federal interest in setting domestic and foreign policy on matters involving energy, the environment, and the economy."
The intrigue: The procedural case, which SCOTUS agreed to take last month, doesn't directly tackle the substance of damage claims from cities and states.
- Instead it turns on technical questions about defendants' ability to challenge decisions that sent cases back to state courts.
- But that's super important to future battles over the substance!
- Bloomberg Law's Ellen Gilmer points out that "federal courts are seen as more favorable to industry defendants."
What we're watching: Moves by the incoming Biden administration.
- UCLA law professor Ann Carlson, who consults pro bono with plaintiffs suing oil companies, notes that the Justice Department has sided with the industry defendants on jurisdictional questions.
- "The Trump Administration was actively supporting the oil company arguments in court," Carlson said via email.
- "A Biden DOJ could (and in my view likely would) back away from these arguments and could even support the municipal and state plaintiffs."