The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on May 26 reversed a federal judge’s dismissal of a climate change lawsuit against oil companies including ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, setting the stage for the case to be heard in a more favorable California state court. The two cities, who first brought suit separately, are seeking billions of dollars from the companies in a special “abatement fund,” alleging their practices knowingly led to problems the cities must now contend with, including rising seas and extreme weather. The cases were initially brought in state court, but they were combined and moved to federal court at the demand of the companies, on the basis that they raised questions of US law, such as the Clean Air Act. The case was dismissed in June 2018 by US District Judge William Alsup, who held that the courts lacked jurisdiction in the matter. A Ninth Circuit panel remanded the case back to Judge Alsup, ordering him to give further consideration to whether his court has jurisdiction. If he again finds his court lacks jurisdiction, the panel ruled, the case must return to state court.
The Ninth Circuit panel also upheld a ruling by another federal judge which allowed California courts to take up climate cases brought by the counties of San Mateo, Marin and Santa Cruz and the cities of Richmond, Santa Cruz and Imperial Beach.
The Ninth Circuit decision follows similar rulings by federal courts remanding climate lawsuits to state courts in Maryland, Rhode Island and Colorado. The US Supreme Court last fall rejected appeals of those decisions. (San Francisco Chronicle, Legal Newsline, Grist)