The US Supreme Court Monday declined to hear five appeals from fossil fuel companies requesting to have their cases moved from state to federal courts.
All five petitions concern whether federal common law, which is law developed over time by courts, or state law applies to lawsuits over greenhouse-gas emissions that cross state lines. Each petition focuses on two federal statutes regarding the transfer of a case to federal court: 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331. § 1441(a) allows a party to remove the case to federal court if they could have first filed their complaint in federal court, known as original jurisdiction. § 1331 controls the circumstances in which a federal court has original jurisdiction, which is limited to when a case arises under the Constitution or federal laws.
The fossil fuel companies argued that because greenhouse gases travel between states, rather than remain within state boundaries, their emission falls under the purview of federal law. While federal common law is not explicitly mentioned in § 1331, the fossil fuel companies cite precedent under United States v. Standard Oil Co. of California that held federal courts may hear common law disputes that concern “essentially federal matters.” Most recently, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in City of New York v. Chevron Corp. that claims seeking relief from greenhouse gas emissions pollution fall under federal, not state, law because of the array of “federal and international laws regulating emissions.”
Local governments sued fossil fuel companies in Sunoco LP v. City and County of Honolulu, Hawaii, Chevron Corp. v. San Mateo County, California, Suncor Energy Inc. v. Board of County Commissioners of Boulder County and BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, claiming that the corporations knew about the climate change effects of producing and burning fossil fuels but kept this knowledge from the public as they continued to promote their products. The Rhode Island government brought identical complaints in Shell Oil Products Company LLC v. Rhode Island.
Justice Samuel Alito did not participate in the decision to deny certiorari. The denials come after the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court in March to reject Suncor’s request to move their trial to federal court.