Energy & Environment

Supreme Court to decide whether climate suit can be moved to federal court

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The Supreme Court says it will hear arguments over whether the city of Baltimore’s lawsuit against several oil companies can be moved to federal court. 

The high court on Friday granted oil companies’ request to review the issue. The companies are currently being sued by the Baltimore city government, which alleges that their production and misleading marketing of fossil fuels has exacerbated climate change. 

The city has pushed for the case to remain in state court, while the oil companies want it in federal court.

Ann Carlson, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles’s law school, said that oil companies may believe that they’re more likely to receive favorable treatment in federal court because of certain precedents, federal judges’ discomfort with these kinds of suits over issues such as separation of powers and an increase in conservatives appointed to the bench under the Trump administration. 

“It probably improves the odds for oil companies prevailing, but it by no means guarantees it,” said Carlson, who has done some pro-bono consulting for the accusers in these types of cases.

She said that the issue of the case is not whether it belongs in federal or state court, but rather whether companies have to wait until the case ends in trial court to appeal it to federal court. 

Carlson added in a follow-up email that appealing to federal court earlier in the process “will slow the cases down further and give the oil companies the chance to persuade federal appellate courts that the cases belong in federal court on grounds other than just federal removal.”

The companies have argued that the issues in the cases are federal ones, such as global emissions and that because they have done contracting work with the federal government, they are essentially federal officers.

Baltimore argued that its case doesn’t necessarily raise any federal law issues and that its claims stem from Maryland law. 

A federal appeals court in March ruled in favor of the city, keeping the case in state court for the time being. 

The Baltimore case is one of several filed in recent years seeking compensation from energy companies or lobbying groups for actions that contributed to climate change. 

The decision made by the judges could have implications on these other cases as well, possibly determining whether they can try to bring their cases to federal court at an earlier stage in the process. 

“Right now there’s a split in the Circuit Courts of Appeals about what you can appeal and when and this would resolve them,” said Carlson.

Tags Baltimore Climate change Maryland
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