Appeals Court Rules Against Oil Companies In Climate Change Lawsuit

A U.S. Appeals Court has ruled that California cities and counties can sue major oil giants on the state court level. Photo courtesy of Patrick Hendry.

SAN FRANCISCO—On Tuesday, May 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously ruled against oil giants that are being sued by three California counties and five cities, including San Francisco, for their alleged contributions to climate change.

The oil companies, which include Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Shell, had made the appeal to move the climate change lawsuit to federal court, where the case would theoretically be harder for the plaintiffs to win. The plaintiffs are seeking billions of dollars in damages.

Anna Arata, a media representative from Shell, commented to the San Francisco News in an email, “We’re committed to playing our part by addressing our own emissions and helping customers to reduce theirs…Addressing a challenge as big as climate change requires a truly collaborative, society-wide approach…We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change.”

Sean Comey, senior advisor of external affairs at Chevron, told San Francisco News, “Chevron believes the cases belong in federal court. They present substantial issues of national law and policy which makes them inappropriate for state law.”

The court decision, made by Judge Sandra Ikuta, who was appointed to the court by President George W. Bush in 2006, reverses the September 2017 ruling of District Court Judge William Alsup. In this ruling, Judge Alsup decided to move a pair of climate change lawsuits brought on by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland to federal court.

In the 2017 lawsuits, San Francisco and Oakland requested that five oil giants, BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell, and ConocoPhillips, pay for seawalls and other infrastructural projects that would help combat the impacts of climate change.

On June 25, 2018, Judge Alsup dismissed the cases altogether because, as he held in his court opinion, the dangers of climate change are “worldwide” and thus should be handled at the federal level.

Judge Alsup’s office declined to comment since the case has now been remanded to his district court.

Over 3 months ago, on February 5, the California cities pleaded to an appeals court that their cases be revisited, which reopened the debate of whether the case should be handled in a state or federal court.

Tuesday’s ruling revives the climate change suits from 2017 and gives California communities the legal green light to sue major oil companies in a state courtroom.

In light of the decision, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker jointly said in a public 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.”