Ninth Circuit denies oil giants’ appeal in climate change lawsuit
Lawsuits filed by a pair of Hawaii counties against oil and gas companies were sent back to state courts by a federal appeals court after an unsuccessful attempt by the companies to move the suits to the federal level.
REALITY: Maui’s Public Nuisance Climate Lawsuit
by Candace Cheung, Court House News, July 7, 2022
(CN) — The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday to deny an appeal by fossil fuel companies to transfer climate change lawsuits to federal court, forcing the fight to remain in state court.
The lawsuits, filed by the city and county of Honolulu and Maui County in 2020, accused the companies of exacerbating the effect of climate change on the islands to increase their own profits. The lawsuits, which name a bevy of energy giants including Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Shell as defendants, aim to hold these companies liable for the damage done by production and distribution of fossil fuels on the islands. They further allege that oil and gas companies did so with the full knowledge the damage their product had on the ecosystem and health of the islands while working to actively deny this damage.
In the appeal, lawyers for the oil companies argued for the removal from Honolulu and Maui courts, contending that government oversight of production processes proves federal officer jurisdiction.
“Congress endorsed oil operations and considered making a national oil company, but that does not show that oil production was a basic governmental task,” Circuit Judge Ryan Nelson wrote in the opinion.
Judge Nelson, a Donald Trump appointee, affirmed the Hawaii District Court’s decision to keep the lawsuits in state court and emphasized that the lawsuits target the energy companies’ deception around the dangers of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases rather than possible federal jurisdiction in their operations.
“Chevron respectfully disagrees with today’s decision by the Ninth Circuit addressing whether the climate change litigation should be litigated in federal or state court. Chevron believes these cases belong in federal court due to their sweeping implications for national energy policy, national security, foreign policy, and other uniquely federal interests,” said Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, counsel for Chevron Corporation in an email. “Climate change is a global phenomenon requiring a coordinated federal policy response, not a patchwork of lawsuits brought in municipal and state courts. As the Court noted, today’s ruling was on a jurisdictional question; we look forward to prevailing on the overall merits of these cases.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The appeals court also cites previous rulings against gas and oil companies facing similar climate change complaints from other state entities. Hawaii joins California and Rhode Island as states who can now contend with these large energy companies in their own individual state courts.
The lawsuits assert that pollution from these companies contribute to the ongoing global climate crisis. The carbon dioxide released in the production and use of fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas have demonstrated effects on global warming and rising sea levels, two particularly significant issues for island communities like Hawaii that are particularly vulnerable to the effect of climate change.
Rising sea levels encroach upon beaches and other locations of cultural and ecological significance. Warming and acidifying waters are proving to be detrimental to the state’s reefs and local wildlife. The increase in extreme weather point to a possible increase in hurricanes and tropical storms that could potentially devastate the entire state. It is not uncommon to hear stories of beachside residences collapsing into the ocean as the foundation erodes beneath. The lawsuit points to property damage and public health concerns caused by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
These lawsuits are indicative of larger effort to improve Hawaii’s self-sustainability and to move away from foreign energy dependence. The state has implemented policies and established offices for the express purpose of ‘malama aina’, a Hawaiian phrase describing the caring for and honoring of the land. Governor David Ige signed several environmental acts in July, focusing on mitigating climate effects on the island and improving sustainable, renewable energy.
Circuit Judges Michael Daly Hawkins, a Bill Clinton appointee, and Danielle Forrest, a Donald Trump appointee, rounded out the panel.
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Maui County prevails in keeping Big Oil Climate Change Lawsuit in State Court
News Release from Maui County, July 7, 2022
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today in favor of Maui County to keep its ongoing litigation against Big Oil in Hawaii state courts, instead of moving the lawsuit to federal court.
In an attempt to have their case heard in a friendlier forum, Shell Oil Company, Chevron Corp. and the other fossil fuel company defendants sought to move the County’s case from state court to federal court. After the Hawaii U.S. District Court ruled against them in February 2021, the oil companies appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court. Today, the Ninth Circuit confirmed that Maui’s case must be heard in state court, not federal courts.
“Keeping this case in our state court is important because it means we will have our claims heard here in Hawaii where the damage is occurring,” said County Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey. “We are looking forward to trying this case, laying out the significant evidence that we have of the damage these companies knowingly created.”
“The constant reminders of climate change are all around us,” said Mayor Michael Victorino. “We’re coping with another severe drought season creating ideal conditions for wildfires. Our rainy seasons have brought intense flooding. These changes came from using their products, while they withheld information on the environmental damage they cause. We are grateful for this victory, and Maui County will continue to pursue justice regardless of how long it takes.”
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Hawaii Climate Cases Can Proceed in State Court, Ninth Circuit Rules in 5th Straight Defeat for Big Oil
Decision Marks the Fifth Straight Circuit Court Loss for Fossil Fuel Companies After the U.S. Supreme Court Ordered Expanded Review of Arguments for Federal Jurisdiction in Climate Accountability Lawsuits
News Release from Center for Climate Integrity, July 7, 2022
Hawaii — In the latest victory for communities seeking to hold major oil and gas corporations accountable for the costs of climate damages they knowingly caused, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today ruled that a pair of lawsuits from Honolulu and Maui can proceed in state court, where they were originally filed.
Honolulu’s lawsuit won a major state court victory in March that has set that community on a path to become the first in the country to put oil majors on trial in state court for climate damages.
Today’s decision marks the second such ruling from the Ninth Circuit this year, and the fifth overall appellate court ruling to reject an expanded list of arguments from the oil industry to move climate liability lawsuits filed in state court to federal court following a 2021 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
In April, a separate Ninth Circuit panel ruled that climate damages lawsuits from six California cities and counties could proceed in state court.
In response, Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, released the following statement:
“Once again Big Oil companies tried to escape accountability, and once again they failed. The people of Honolulu and Maui are paying the price for Big Oil’s climate deception. It’s time for them to have their day in state court to make these corporations pay their fair share of the damages they caused.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Fourth Circuit, Ninth Circuit, and First Circuit issued similar rulings in climate accountability lawsuits brought by communities in Colorado, Maryland, and California, and the State of Rhode Island, respectively.
Three other federal circuit courts across the country are considering similar arguments from Exxon and other oil and gas companies, which have repeatedly lost efforts to move climate accountability lawsuits out of state court.
At least ten federal district courts have similarly ruled that climate accountability lawsuits filed in state court belong in state court — leaving the fossil fuel industry with “a batting average of .000,” in the words of one judge.
Since 2017, the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, as well as 20 city and county governments in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and Washington, have filed lawsuits to hold major oil and gas companies accountable for deceiving the public about their products’ role in climate change.
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SA Column: Hawaii holds oil companies accountable
REALITY: Maui’s Public Nuisance Climate Lawsuit