US Supreme Court refuses to move California suit against oil companies to federal court

The US Supreme Court declined Monday to take up an appeal by a group of oil companies challenging a California state court ruling permitting two California cities to sue for damages related to climate change, meaning the case will be heard in state court.

The cities of Oakland and San Francisco claimed that fossil fuel giants BP, Exxon, Chevron, Shell and ConocoPhillips created a public nuisance through their contributions to climate change, which caused flooding, shoreline erosion and saltwater damage to city infrastructure. They allege that the companies “conduct[ed] a decades-long campaign to discredit the science of global warming, misrepresent and conceal the dangers of fossil fuels, and downplay the catastrophic consequences of climate change—all for the purpose and with the effect of inflating the market for their products.” The public nuisance statute requires the petitioners to prove that parties knowingly marketed and promoted products they knew were dangerous.

By rejecting this case, the Supreme Court refused to create a new category to open doors for state suits to be heard in federal court. The oil companies’ claims did not fall within existing parameters that would allow a state lawsuit to be removed to federal court. There was no federal question nor was there a circuit conflict that could bring this case into the jurisdiction of the US Supreme Court.

A coalition of 18 states, including Texas, Louisiana, Alaska and other major fossil fuel producers filed a amici curiae brief in support of the oil companies. They claim that allowing the suit to proceed in state court would “give California state courts the power to set climate-change policy for the entire country.”