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Climate Liability Suits: Is There a Path to Federal Court?

CRS Legal Sidebar – Climate Liability Suits: Is There a Path to Federal Court? August 12, 2022: “Many of the most prominent court cases related to climate change in recent years have been decided by federal courts, including the Supreme Court, based on federal law. A growing number of cases,however, allege state-law claims against fossil fuel companies in state courts. A key issue that has emerged early in that litigation is whether those state courts will ultimately consider liability related to climate change, or whether federal courts should instead assume responsibility for those claims. On July 7, 2022, in City and County of Honolulu v. Sunoco LP, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed an order from a federal trial court returning a climate change lawsuit to Hawaii state court,where it was filed initially. The case was the fifth federal appeals court case to consider whether federal courts should hear state-law climate lawsuits since the Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in BP p.l.c. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore. The Supreme Court in BP directed federal appeals courts to entertain a broader scope of arguments from the fossil fuel industry that climate liability suits belong in federal court—not state court. Since BP, the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have considered appeals from the fossil fuel industry arguing that state-law climate lawsuits should be heard in federal court. Each court of appeals sent each case back to state court, frustrating defendants’ attempts to secure a federal forum. This Legal Sidebar provides analysis of legal issues related to removal of climate liability suits and considerations for Congress.”

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