The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday that state courts should be the forum for hearing public nuisance lawsuits against petroleum producers. These lawsuits allege that the producers were promoting petroleum even though they knew that it was causing environmental harms such as drought, rising sea-levels and wildfires.
The case comes from a public-nuisance complaint filed by the city of Oakland and the city and county of San Francisco against five energy companies that use fossil fuels, including BP, Chevron Corporation, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corporation and Royal Dutch Shell.
The plaintiffs assert that the energy companies should fund a climate change adaptation program for the cities, and the energy companies tried to move the case out of state court and into federal court. The district court refused to send the case back to state court and ultimately dismissed the case for failure to state a claim.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the federal district court did not have jurisdiction when it heard the case. They held that the state-law claim brought by the cities did “not raise a substantial federal issue.” Thus, it remanded the case to the district court to decide “whether there was an alternative basis for jurisdiction,” and ordering a remand to state court if there was no alternative basis.