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Supreme Court rebuffs Exxon, Chevron appeals in climate litigation

Posted On: Apr. 24, 2023 10:38 AM CST


(Reuters) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear bids by Exxon Mobil Corp., Suncor Energy Inc., Chevron Corp. and others to move lawsuits filed by state and local governments accusing the oil companies of worsening climate change out of state courts and into federal courts.

The justices turned away five appeals by the oil companies of lower court decisions that determined that the lawsuits belonged in state court, a venue often seen as more favorable to plaintiffs than federal court. The lawsuits were filed by the state of Rhode Island and municipalities or counties in Maryland, Colorado, California and Hawaii.

Numerous state and local governments have pursued climate-related litigation against oil companies and the eventual rulings in the cases could help determine whether such lawsuits must be waged in federal courts or at the state level.

The appeal had marked the first chance for the high court to decide whether to revisit an issue that it last addressed in 2021, when the justices gave oil companies a new shot at redirecting climate-related lawsuits brought by state and local governments into federal court.

In that 7-1 ruling, the justices concluded that a federal appeals court had not correctly analyzed whether a lawsuit filed by the city of Baltimore against companies including BP PLC, Chevron and Exxon should be heard in federal court.

The decision prompted other federal appeals courts to reconsider whether they should send similar lawsuits by state and local governments back to state courts, where they were originally filed.

Those cases included one filed in 2018 by the city of Boulder and by Colorado’s San Miguel and Boulder counties accusing Exxon and Suncor of exacerbating climate change by concealing and misrepresenting the dangers associated with burning fossil fuels.

The lawsuit said the companies created a public and private nuisance and violated state consumer protection laws as the jurisdictions sought to force Exxon and Suncor to pay for their costs of adapting to climate change.

The oil companies have denied the allegations and have sought to move the lawsuit to federal court, saying the local governments had made their allegations under state law “to conceal the federal character of their claims in state garb.”

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February concluded that the lawsuit did not belong in federal court because none of the grounds cited by the companies to change the venue supported giving federal courts jurisdiction.

Four other appeals courts after the Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling reached similar conclusions in climate change lawsuits against oil companies by state and local governments in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Exxon and Suncor’s lawyers had argued that the Supreme Court should take up the Colorado case to address whether federal common law exclusively governs claims seeking redress for alleged injuries caused by the effect of greenhouse-gas emissions.

In March, President Joe Biden’s administration urged the justices not to take up the appeal by Exxon and Suncor, arguing that no federal questions had been raised in the litigation. That marked a reversal of the position taken by former President Donald Trump’s administration when the Supreme Court last considered the issue.