Energy Firms Lose Challenge to Remand of Baltimore Climate Suit to State Court

By | May 18, 2022
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Major energy firms have lost their bid for a rehearing of a ruling in a case brought by the city of Baltimore seeking to hold them accountable for damages caused by climate change.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday denied the rehearing request, thereby affirming its April decision that sent Baltimore’s climate change lawsuit against more than 20 energy firms back to state court.

The energy firms had wanted the case heard in federal court. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. appeals court ruled unanimously that Baltimore’s case is built on state, not federal, law and should be heard in state, not federal, court. The court has now declined to revisit that decision.

City officials believe they have a better chance of obtaining damages for the harms they maintains the fossil fuel firms knowingly have inflicted on the city and its residents over decades.

“The impacts of climate change undoubtably have local, national, and international ramifications. But those consequences do not necessarily confer jurisdiction upon federal courts carte blanche,” Senior Circuit Judge Henry Franklin Floyd wrote for the court.

“In this case, a municipality has decided to exclusively rely upon state-law claims to remedy its own climate-change injuries, which it perceives were caused, at least in part, by Defendants’ fossil-fuel products and strategic misinformation campaign. These claims do not belong in federal court,” the judges concluded.

The April panel ruling was the circuit court’s second time supporting a remand of the case to state court. Its first narrow ruling in support of a remand to state court was appealed by the defendants to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in turn sent it back with instructions to more fully review all of the issues in deciding if the case should be in federal court.

The appeals court took up the challenge, addressing the eight reasons the defendants claimed the Maryland city’s lawsuit is a federal case. in a 93-page opinion, the court found the reasons unconvincing and left no doubt the defendants had totally failed to prove their case.

The opinion dealt only with the jurisdiction issue and not with whether Baltimore will ultimately fail or succeed in proving its claims under Maryland law.

The lawsuit accuses oil and gas companies of knowing for the about past 50 years that there is a link between fossil fuel production and climate change, but actively working to hide the dangers from the public through marketing rather than trying to minimize the damage.

Baltimore seeks to shift the burden of its climate-change costs onto the defendants that include BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Phillips 66, Marathon, Citgo, CNX Resources, Hess and Consol Energy and other large national and international energy firms.

Baltimore’s is one of a number of municipal climate lawsuits filed against the energy industry. Baltimore’s attorney, Vic Sher, is with the law firm Sher Edling, which is involved in 20 municipal lawsuits against oil companies and all but one have been filed in state courts.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, the District of Columbia and Delaware along with the cities of Annapolis, Charleston, New York and Honolulu are among the entities that have sued.

Photo: Aerial view of Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland.

Topics Lawsuits

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