By Karen Savage
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed the oil industry another legal defeat on Wednesday when it refused to review its decision to revive climate liability suits filed by Oakland and San Francisco, unanimously rejecting a request by Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, and ConocoPhillips.
The companies had requested an en banc review by the full appellate court after a three-judge panel had restored the lawsuits, filed by the two cities in 2017 against the oil giants to hold them accountable for the costs of climate-related damages. A district court judge had dismissed the suits in 2019, but the cities successfully appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
“The full court has been advised of the petition for panel rehearing and/or rehearing en banc, and no judge has requested a vote on whether to rehear the matter en banc,” Judge Sandra S. Ikuta wrote in the order and amended opinion.
Because the lower court had initially ruled on only one of the companies’ arguments for leaving the case in federal court, the three-judge panel had instructed the district court judge to review whether the companies’ remaining arguments were valid. If not, the judge was instructed to remand the cases to state court.
But in its order, the panel amended those instructions, ruling that some of the companies’ arguments are not eligible for consideration because they did not invoke them earlier.
“In another unanimous ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has told the fossil fuel companies that they are wrong,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said in a joint statement. “First it was decades of deception and disinformation; now these companies have been trying to drag their feet in court. It’s time to move these cases forward in state court, where they belong, and hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the harms, costs, and damage they are imposing on our cities.”
This is the latest in a string of jurisdictional setbacks for the fossil fuel companies in climate change-related lawsuits filed against them.
The Ninth Circuit last week declined a request by Chevron, Exxon, Shell, Citgo, ConocoPhillips and more than 30 other fossil fuel companies to rethink its May ruling that sent to state court similar cases filed by the cities of Imperial Beach, Richmond, and Santa Cruz, as well as the counties of Marin, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz.
The traditionally conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has become even more conservative with five members appointed by President Trump, on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling remanding to state court lawsuits by two Louisiana parishes against dozens of oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell.
That ruling appears to put dozens of suits filed against the industry by Louisiana parishes back in state court, where they were filed. The parishes allege that the companies’ operations have severely damaged the state’s wetlands, which—when intact—protect coastal residents from sea level rise, flooding, severe storms and other climate impacts.