California Lawsuits Against Big Oil Reach Crucial Hearings

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear arguments on Wednesday whether to allow lawsuits against Big Oil by several California cities be heard in state court, as the communities want, instead of federal court, on which the oil corporations insist.

Should the appeals court decide in favor of the plaintiffs in two separate lawsuits to have oil corporations, including Exxon and Chevron, pay for damages caused by rising sea levels and other impacts from climate change, other American cities could file more lawsuits against oil firms demanding compensation and demanding those case be heard in state courts.

The lawsuits, one filed by San Francisco and Oakland, and another by the city of Imperial Beach and several counties in California, argue that Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, and ConocoPhillips should be held liable for the impact on communities from climate change, including rising sea levels, heat waves, and wildfires.

Last year, San Francisco and Oakland approached a federal appeals court with a request to reinstate their lawsuits against the five Big Oil companies, which a U.S. District Judge had dismissed in 2018.

Lawyers for San Francisco and Oakland will argue today that the case should be allowed at a state court, Los Angeles Times reports.

If the judges were to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, courts are likely to start taking such lawsuits more seriously, law experts told Los Angeles Times. Moreover, allowing cases in a state court could impact cases filed in other states, Sean Hecht, co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law, told the newspaper.

“A court hearing in California this week could have major implications for the fight to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the costs of climate change,” the Center for Climate Integrity, a group supporting local governments, said earlier this week.

In October last year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected requests by a number of oil companies to block three lawsuits launched against them by state and local governments for their role in climate change, in a blow to BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Shell, and Phillips 66, which had requested that the cases filed in Maryland, Rhode Island, and Colorado, be moved to federal court.