Oil Companies Ask SCOTUS to Review Hawaii Supreme Court Decision Allowing Climate Change Suits to Proceed

2024-03-07 04:00:32

You remember the Hawaii Supreme Court. They disallowed concealed firearms carry in Hawaii because of Hawaii’s “Spirit of Aloha,” despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen case, which said such carry is a fundamental right.

Well, they’re back. This time, the Hawaii Supreme Court has issued an opinion holding that state entities can sue oil companies in state court and that state, not federal, law governs.

The problem with the Hawaii Supreme Court’s holding should be obvious: one state could control damages to the oil companies for the whole country based solely on that state’s particular concerns, or every state could now sue the oil companies for climate change damages, and there could, as a result, be 51 (including D.C.) different results with 51 different damage levels (anywhere from $0 to billions of dollars). This, of course, is not to mention the astronomical attorneys’ fees likely to be generated on behalf of the oil companies in defending against these suits, fees that you will ultimately pay the energy consumer.

Fortunately, Sunoco and the other oil companies under fire in Hawaii have filed a “Petition for Certiorari” with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Court to review the Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision (with the obvious eventual goal of getting an eventual SCOTUS ruling stating that federal law should apply, which should (ultimately) lead to one result, with one damage amount, if any).

X User Matt Whitlock summarizes a thread about the case from the Alliance for Consumers, whose tagline is “Ensuring that consumers and the rule of law are not left behind by trial lawyers and public officials…”:

The Alliance for Consumers thread has the best summary of this I have seen and is worth reviewing. From the thread:

Pay attention to this new cert petition coming out of the Hawaii Supreme Court…

It’s a golden ticket that just got placed before the Supreme Court, at least for those of us who want to see the Left’s public nuisance campaign grind to a halt

Background: Honolulu is suing energy companies for their alleged role in driving climate change. There are *two dozen* other cases making these types of claims in other states.

What makes this case interesting is that it’s the first big-ticket climate change case where a state supreme court conclusively weighed in on the merits of how these cases should work…

The Hawaii Supreme Court said that these claims can go to trial *in state court* irrespective of federal law.

The Hawaii Supreme Court decision is a dangerous precedent – it allows a single judge or jury in state court to weigh liability for global greenhouse gas emissions and assign billions in fines, effectively steering energy policy for the rest of the country. And it did so based on its own reading of federal law.

Make no mistake, lawsuits like this one are designed to reshape entire sectors of the economy.

Judge William Alsup, a Clinton appointee in San Francisco, said as much in a decision dismissing Oakland’s climate-nuisance suit….

The Supreme Court has rejected cert petitions involving climate nuisance cases before, when those petitions raised jurisdictional issues that weren’t case-dispositive.

Not so here. This case is different.

This case squarely asks whether a municipal plaintiff can seek billions of dollars for injuries arising from interstate greenhouse gas emissions.

And by extension whether Tish James can then punish meat producers, or automakers, or anyone else for failure to toe the line on climate change.

The answer is no. These cases cannot go forward.

The Supreme Court can take this case, note that federal common law governs, and limit state public nuisance to issues that are not national or international in nature, before these cases get too far along and the Green New Deal is foisted on unsuspecting consumers.

Consumers are perfectly clear that they’re not interested in mandatory EVs, electric stoves, lab-grown meat, and dishwashers that don’t work.

The climate-nuisance suits will eventually force leftwing lifestyle choices on everybody unless the Supreme Court stops them.

Thankfully, consumers were just delivered a potential winning ticket with this new Hawaii petition [for Certiorari with SCOTUS].

[emphasis added]

The quoted Judge Alsup’s language is from a 2018 case in which he dismissed a climate-nuisance suit against B.P.:

In these actions alone, two plaintiffs seek billions of dollars each in the form of an abatement fund. It seems a near certainty that judgments in favor of the plaintiffs who have brought similar nuisance claims based on identical conduct (let alone those plaintiffs who have yet to file suit) would make the continuation of defendants’ fossil fuel production “not feasible.” This order accordingly disagrees that it could ignore the public benefits derived from defendants’ conduct in adjudicating plaintiffs’ claims. In the aggregate, the adjustment of conflicting pros and cons ought to be left to Congress or diplomacy.

[emphasis added]

There, we see the ultimate goal of these lawsuits – the destruction of fossil fuel industries for some left-wing green-energy utopia.

No, thank you.

Fortunately, Sunoco’s Petition seems to make a good case for review by SCOTUS, noting that the Hawaii Supreme Court admitted that its opinion is in direct conflict with another decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (which covers New York, Connecticut, and Vermont). From the Petition:

As the Hawaii Supreme Court recognized, its decision squarely conflicts with the Second Circuit’s decision in City of New York, which held that federal law precluded materially identical state-law claims. The decision below is also inconsistent with decisions of the Fourth and Seventh Circuits….

The question before the Second Circuit was “whether municipalities may utilize state tort law to hold multinational oil companies liable for the damages caused by global greenhouse gas emissions.” The Second Circuit unanimously held that “the answer is ‘no.’”

[citations omitted for clarity]

The U.S. Supreme Court often takes cases that embody a “circuit split,” or a situation where two different U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals have come out differently on the same issue of law. This case is even worse because it is a split between the highest court of a state and a federal Court of Appeals. What a cluster…

The Petition also points out that the Hawaii Supreme Court decision conflicts with previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions:

Although state law is presumptively competent to govern a wide variety of issues in our federal system, there are certain narrowly defined areas in which “our federal system does not permit the controversy to be resolved under state law”…

For over a century, this Court has held that interstate pollution is one of the few inherently federal areas necessarily governed by federal law.

[citations omitted]

Finally, the Petition summarizes the enormous potential consequences of this case:

The question presented in this case is recurring and has enormous legal and practical importance. And this case, which cleanly presents the question, may be the Court’s only opportunity to decide it for years to come….

The stakes in this case could not be higher. Over two dozen cases have been filed by various States and municipalities across the country seeking to impose untold damages on energy companies for the physical and economic effects of climate change. New cases continue to be filed….

Those cases present a serious threat to one of the Nation’s most vital industries. As the federal government previously stated in a similar climate-change case, “federal law and policy has long declared that fossil fuels are strategically important domestic resources that should be developed to reduce the growing dependence of the United States on politically and economically unstable sources of foreign oil imports”….

The approach adopted by the Hawaii Supreme Court not only contravenes this Court’s precedents but would also permit suits alleging injuries pertaining to global climate change to proceed under the laws of all 50 States—a blueprint for chaos.

The petition for a writ of certiorari should be granted.

Of course, the City of Honolulu will respond vigorously to Sunoco’s request for SCOTUS review and argue that the Hawaii Supreme Court made the right decision.

Let’s hope SCOTUS doesn’t buy that argument and grants a review of this case. The stakes are simply too high.


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Oil Companies Ask SCOTUS to Review Hawaii Supreme Court Decision Allowing Climate Change Suits to Proceed


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