US appeals court sends fossil fuel cases back to state court News
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US appeals court sends fossil fuel cases back to state court

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Tuesday sent lawsuits by six California cities and counties accusing ExxonMobil, Chevron Corp and other energy giants of fueling climate change back to state court after the US Supreme Court required the court reexamine the cases.

After the suits were filed in their respective state courts, the defendant energy companies in each case filed a notice of removal in an attempt to move the case to federal court. Among other arguments, the energy companies stated that federal court is appropriate for these matters because the plaintiffs’ claims were based on fossil fuel extraction that occurred on vessels engaged in maritime activities, which would make them fall within the Constitution’s grant of original jurisdiction. In response, the plaintiffs filed motions to remand the cases to state court for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. After the district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion to remand, the defendants appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

Following a review of the defendant energy companies arguments, a panel of judges for the court was not convinced that there were any federal issues on the face of the complaints filed by the County of San Mateo, the County of Marin, and the City of Imperial Beach in 2018.

Judge Sandra Ikuta stated that the statutes that govern removing cases from state to federal court must be interpreted narrowly. She said: “Even if the complaints raise federal policy issues that are national and international in scope, implicate foreign affairs and negotiations with other nations, and require uniform standards, they do not raise a substantial question of federal law for the purpose of determining whether there is jurisdiction.”

The same court panel remanded the cases in 2020, but it took a second look at the cases after the Supreme Court in May 2021 in a similar case by the City of Baltimore, Maryland gave the companies another shot to argue for removal to federal court.

Two other US circuit courts have since remanded cases by Baltimore and Colorado municipalities. Other lawsuits are still pending.