The U.S. Supreme Court should reject a request by fossil fuel companies to review an appellate court ruling that Baltimore’s climate liability suit against them belongs in state court, according to a brief filed by the city.
Baltimore, which filed its brief Monday with the high court, argued the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was correct to reject the companies’ argument that the case belongs in federal court under the Federal Officer Removal Statute and was correct to decline to review the oil giants’ other arguments.
Like dozens of climate-related lawsuits filed across the country, the question of jurisdiction—whether the suit will proceed in federal or state court—has been hotly contested.
Baltimore wants the case against Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and more than a dozen other companies, to be heard in state court, where it was filed in 2018 alleging violations of state law. The fossil fuel companies want the case to be heard in federal court, where previous climate-related cases have been decided largely in the industry’s favor.
The companies have relied heavily on the Federal Officer Removal Statute, which gives federal courts jurisdiction over civil actions directed at the United States or any federal official. They argue that because they sold or extracted fossil fuels under government contract, they operated as federal officers.
In Baltimore’s case, that contention was rejected last year by the U.S. District Court and affirmed in March by the Fourth Circuit. District courts in Rhode Island, California and Colorado, have also rejected that argument and the decisions have thus far been upheld on appeal.
The energy giants initially presented several other arguments for having Baltimore’s case heard in federal court. Both parties seem to agree that if presented alone, those arguments would be unreviewable. The fossil fuel companies, however, contend that they are eligible for review when presented along with the federal officer removal argument.
Baltimore flatly rejects that contention.
“Petitioners all but admit that, having failed to persuade any court that their federal-officer removal arguments are meritorious, ‘all they really want is a hook to allow appeal of some different subject,’” Baltimore wrote in its brief.
The fossil fuel companies maintain the issue is ripe for the Supreme Court because it will decide the matter for all the cases being heard in the various circuits.
Both sides have now submitted briefs and the Supreme Court is expected to announce in the coming months whether it will hear the case.