“It is time for these companies to pay their fair share. They should not be able to stick taxpayers with the bill for the damage they knew they were causing.”
SAN FRANCISCO (May 26, 2020) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued the following statement today about the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ unanimous decision to allow San Francisco and Oakland’s lawsuits against major fossil fuel producers to proceed:
“We filed this case in state court because that is where it belongs. We’re pleased the federal appellate court has issued this unanimous decision in our favor. San Francisco and Oakland taxpayers are already incurring the costs of dealing with the damage these fossil fuel companies knowingly caused. It is time for these companies to pay their fair share. They should not be able to stick taxpayers with the bill for the damage they knew they were causing. We will continue to hold these companies accountable for their decades-long campaign of public deception about climate change and its consequences. We’re pleased that we can proceed with this case to protect our residents, workers, and businesses from the costs and damage these fossil fuel companies knowingly imposed on our communities.”
In a unanimous ruling authored by Judge Sandra S. Ikuta, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit today reversed District Court Judge William Alsup’s decision dismissing the climate change lawsuits filed by San Francisco and Oakland in September 2017. The panel rejected the legal arguments raised by fossil fuel companies in this and similar suits around the country and held: (1) the state-law claim for public nuisance related to the impacts of global warming on public infrastructure “does not arise under federal law;” (2) the cases are not completely preempted by the Clean Air Act; and (3) as a result, the cases should not have been dismissed.
Both cases were sent back to Judge Alsup for further proceedings to determine whether any basis for federal court jurisdiction remains, or whether the cases should return to the state courts where they were originally filed. A copy of the court’s opinion is attached; key excerpts are provided below.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker issued the following joint statement:
“These lawsuits were filed to protect our residents, workers, and businesses from the harms of climate change knowingly imposed on our communities by the fossil fuel companies. Today’s ruling from a unanimous Court of Appeals panel puts us one step closer to that goal.
The court thoroughly rejected the fossil fuel companies’ argument that our cases somehow magically belong in federal court despite the fact that they were filed in state court raising only state law claims. We look forward to further proceedings with Judge Alsup and then getting these cases back to state court where they belong.”
- We hold that the state-law claim for public nuisance does not arise under federal law. [p. 9]
- Even assuming that the Cities’ allegations could give rise to a cognizable claim for public nuisance under federal common law, the district court did not have jurisdiction … because the state-law claim for public nuisance fails to raise a substantial federal question. [p. 19] [citations omitted]
- Rather than identify a legal issue, the Energy Companies suggest that the Cities’ state-law claim implicates a variety of “federal interests,” including energy policy, national security, and foreign policy. The question whether the Energy Companies can be held liable for public nuisance based on production and promotion of the use of fossil fuels and be required to spend billions of dollars on abatement is no doubt an important policy question, but it does not raise a substantial question of federal law for the purpose of determining whether there is [federal court] jurisdiction. [p. 20] [footnote omitted]
- The Energy Companies also argue that the Cities’ state-law claim for public nuisance arises under federal law because it is completely preempted by the Clean Air Act. This argument also fails. [p. 21]
- In sum, because neither exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule applies to the Cities’ original complaints, the district court erred in holding that it had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 at the time of removal. [p. 23]
- [I]f there was not subject-matter jurisdiction at the time of removal, the cases must proceed in state court. [p. 29]
- The district court did not address the alternative bases for removal asserted in the Energy Companies’ notices of removal. And we generally do not consider issues “not passed upon below.” Accordingly, we remand these cases to the district court to determine whether there was an alternative basis for jurisdiction. If there was not, the cases should be remanded to state court. [pp. 29-30] [citation and footnote omitted]
9th Circuit Panel:
- Sandra S. Ikuta, appointed by President George W. Bush, 2006
- Morgan Christen, appointed by President Obama, 2012
- Kenneth K. Lee, appointed by President Trump, 2019
The case is: People of the State of California v. BP P.L.C. et al., U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Case No.18-16663. Additional information is available on the City Attorney’s website at: www.sfcityattorney.org.
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