The Biden administration Thursday filed an amicus brief in Suncor Energy Inc. v. Board of County Commissioners of Boulder County on behalf of Colorado municipalities seeking damages against oil companies for “climate-change related injuries to property and residents.” The administration urged the US Supreme Court to reject the oil companies’ request to move the case from state court to federal court—a move the oil companies claim is necessary due to possible prejudice against them in state court. The Biden administration disagreed, highlighting the fact that all of the claims raised by the municipalities are state law claims.
Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, a plaintiff must raise actual federal law claims in order for the defendant to remove the case to federal court. Suncor Energy and Exxon Mobil, the oil companies in the case, argue that the municipalities’ claims couch federal common law actions in state law claims in order to resist removal. The Denver-based US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit rejected this argument, remanding the case back to state court, where the oil companies appealed to the US Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court invited the US to file an amicus brief on the case in October 2022 in order to express its views on the dispute.
This is the court’s second opportunity to consider the question of jurisdiction in climate-change related cases. The court first considered the question in 2021, issuing a narrow ruling remanding the case back to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for reconsideration. The court’s decision in this case will have implications beyond the present question, with nearly a dozen similar lawsuits currently working their way through the legal system.