The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear bids by Exxon Mobil Corp XOM-N, Suncor Energy Inc SU-T, Chevron Corp CVX-N 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 California, Colorado, Hawaii and Maryland.
Numerous state and local governments have pursued litigation against oil companies seeking climate-related damages. A separate appeal filed by the oil companies challenging lower court decisions in cases out of New Jersey and Delaware is still pending before the Supreme Court.
Theodore Boutrous, an attorney for Chevron, expressed confidence that the cases will be dismissed in state court. Boutrous said the lawsuits are an issue of “national and global magnitude” that require a coordinated federal response, “not a disjointed patchwork” of actions from numerous state courts.
“These wasteful lawsuits in state courts will do nothing to advance global climate solutions, nothing to reduce emissions and nothing to address climate-related impacts,” Boutrous added.
Attorneys general and lawyers for the states and municipalities welcomed the decision in statements.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha said his state is preparing for trial after “nearly a half decade of delay tactics” from the oil companies. The Supreme Court’s action “marks an important milestone,” Neronha added.
A joint statement from the California cities of Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Richmond and Marin county said the oil companies knew the dangers of fossil fuels, which they said contribute to extreme precipitation and floods, wildfires and other climate-related woes, but opted instead to deceive consumers.
The appeals had marked the first chance for the high court to decide whether to revisit an issue it last addressed in 2021, when the justices gave oil companies a new shot at redirecting climate-related lawsuits 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 Chevron, Exxon and BP Plc should be heard in federal court.
That decision prompted other federal appeals courts to reconsider whether they should send similar lawsuits by state and local governments back to state courts.
Those cases included one filed in 2018 by the city of Boulder and by Colorado’s San Miguel and Boulder counties against Exxon and Suncor. The lawsuit said the companies created a public and private nuisance and violated state consumer protection laws, with the jurisdictions seeking to force Exxon and Suncor to pay for their costs of adapting to climate change. The oil companies have denied the allegations.
The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2022 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 reached similar conclusions in the lawsuits by Rhode Island and jurisdictions in California, Colorado, Hawaii and Maryland.
President Joe Biden’s administration in March urged the justices not to take up the appeal by Exxon and Suncor, arguing that no federal questions had been raised. That marked a reversal of the position taken by former President Donald Trump’s administration when the Supreme Court last considered the issue.