D.C. says climate case belongs in local court

Source: By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2020

Attorneys for the District of Columbia told judges this week their climate lawsuit against oil and gas companies should be moved back to the local court where it was filed.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D) filed the case in June at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, suing companies like Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and BP PLC under D.C. consumer protection law. The suit charges that the companies engaged in a yearslong coordinated campaign to mislead consumers about the contributions of fossil fuels to global warming (Climatewire, July 20).

Industry attorneys moved to the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia in July, claiming that the case raises questions of federal law and should be heard by federal judges.

But the lawsuit was raised solely under District statute, and companies can’t prove that the complaint brings up federal issues, Racine and lead attorney Vic Sher of Sher Edling LLP argue in the motion filed Monday.

“The District states that removal was improper because the District’s Complaint does not raise any federal claims, and the Superior Court is the appropriate forum for adjudicating the exclusively District law claims brought pursuant to the Attorney General’s authority under the Consumer Protection Procedures Act,” District of Columbia attorneys said in their motion.

The lawsuit comes as other climate liability cases against industry have been stuck in jurisdictional fights over whether they should be heard by local or federal courts. The cases are usually filed in state courts and are then removed by industry attorneys to federal benches where they could be preempted by federal law.

Some experts say the newest iteration of climate liability lawsuits brought by states’ attorneys general using consumer protection laws could face an easier battle in the legal fight to remain in state court, since local consumer protection laws are so robust (Climatewire, June 29).

A similar case brought by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy (D) is currently pending in state court after judges scrapped Exxon’s bid to push it to federal court in May.

A consumer protection case from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D), filed a day before Racine’s case, was moved to a federal bench last month (Climatewire, July 29).