U.S. SUPREME COURT KILLS GREENHOUSE GAS LAWSUIT
June 20, 2011 - For Immediate Release
DENVER, CO. The U.S. Supreme Court today ended the attempt by environmental groups to use the federal common law and federal courts to litigate regarding “climate change.” Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation long active in litigation on environmental issues, had urged the Court’s unanimous result. MSLF, which has challenged the right of environmental groups to file federal lawsuits, had asked the Court in a friend of the court brief to reverse a ruling by a federal appeals court that allowed States and groups to file nuisance lawsuits based on alleged harms from greenhouse gases (GHG), which the Court did 8-0. The Court, however, split 4-4 and thus left standing the ruling of the appeals court that those suing had standing, under Article III of the Constitution, to file their lawsuit; MSLF had urged that the Court resolve the tension between the Court’s 1992 ruling as to when a party may file a federal lawsuit and the Court’s 2007 ruling regarding GHG, which relaxed standing.
“In 2007, the Court weakened the ‘causation’ and ‘redressability’ elements of standing analysis and with its ruling below, the Second Circuit eviscerated what remains of those elements,” said William Perry Pendley, MSLF president. “We are disappointed the Supreme Court did not restore constitutional standing; however, we are pleased that this case is at an end.”
In July 2004, eight States, New York City, and three private land trusts sued American Electric Power Company Inc., American Electric Power Service Corporation, Southern Company, Tennessee Valley Authority, Xcel Energy, Inc., and Cinergy Corporation alleging their carbon dioxide emissions caused environmental degradation, economic injury, and harm. The States argued that the companies must cap and reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. In September 2005, a federal district court in New York dismissed the lawsuit as non-justiciable under the political question doctrine.
In September 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in a 139-page opinion, reversed, holding that the political question doctrine did not bar court review of the claims, that all plaintiffs had standing, and that the claims were permitted by federal common law nuisance principles. On August 2, 2010, the defendants filed a petition for writ of certiorari.
After the New York case was filed, three similar tort lawsuits against GHG emitters were filed in Mississippi and California. Although a Supreme Court ruling would address the viability of such lawsuits, various issues are likely to remain unresolved, including whether such future plaintiffs could prove the merits of these types of cases, specifically; liability, causation, and damages. Those issues would have to be addressed in future rulings by trial courts, the courts of appeals, and perhaps even the Supreme Court.
Mountain States Legal Foundation, founded in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.
Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) is a nonprofit,
public interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right
to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and economic freedom. It is an Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) entity
incorporated in the State of Colorado. Csontributions
to Mountain States Legal Foundation are tax deductible.
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