ALEXANDRIA, Va.—NACS, along with the National Association of Manufacturers and the Energy Marketers of America, on August 4 filed a legal brief arguing that a climate lawsuit brought by the state of Rhode Island against many of the largest oil companies in the nation should be tried in federal rather than state court.
The brief followed a successful outcome in the case of BP v. Baltimore in which NACS supported the defendants in arguing that it should be easier to move climate change litigation to federal courts.
In the Baltimore case, the U.S. Supreme Court in May ruled 7-1 that federal appeals courts have jurisdiction to examine all of the arguments the litigants made on whether such lawsuits belong in federal or state courts. The high court ruled that the 4th Circuit erred in holding that it lacked jurisdiction to consider all of the defendants’ grounds for removal.
A number of states and cities have worked with environmental groups in recent years to file lawsuits against companies in the oil industry in an attempt to make them pay for the costs of climate change.
These suits are part of a coordinated strategy to assign legal blame for climate change in the past (and for the future).
These cases are all in early stages as the principal questions considered so far have been whether state or federal courts should hear them. The suits have all been filed in state courts based on a theory by the plaintiffs that they will be more likely to prevail there. In each case, the defendants have argued that these are federal legal questions and should be removed to federal courts.
The Supreme Court set an important precedent allowing defendants greater opportunities to move cases to federal court in the Baltimore case. Now, the ruling in that case must be applied to the other pending cases.
The first of these is Rhode Island’s lawsuit. In its brief, NACS argued that legal questions about the effects of climate change are inherently federal and that Rhode Island’s desire to litigate in its state courts would undermine the traditional boundaries between state and federal courts. The outcome of that and similar cases around the country will be central to answering the question of whether the strategy by the environmental groups to sue for climate change will be successful or not.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals also plans to reconsider the Baltimore case considering the Supreme Court’s ruling. NACS plans to file a brief in support of the defendants in that case as well.