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Manufacturers Fight to Keep Nuisance Lawsuits in Federal Court

The cities of Boulder and Baltimore are both pursuing baseless lawsuits against manufacturers, and along with their profit-seeking trial attorneys, they know that they are unlikely to succeed in federal court.  So, they are pushing to have the cases heard in state courts. Manufacturers are fighting back to keep the cases where they belong—in federal court.

The issue of whether the public nuisance lawsuits belong in federal versus state court has already been thoroughly debated in similar cases brought by San Francisco and Oakland. In those cases, Judge William Alsup ruled that such cases “demand the most comprehensive view available” and therefore should be decided in federal court. Alsup further warned, “A patchwork of 50 different answers to the same fundamental global issue would be unworkable.”

This reasoning ultimately led Alsup to dismiss the San Francisco and Oakland suits because a patchwork of judicial rulings—even in federal court—will not solve the problem of climate change:

“[Q]uestions of how to appropriately balance these worldwide negatives against the worldwide positive of the energy itself, and of how to allocate the pluses and minuses among the nations of the world, demand the expertise of our environmental agencies, our diplomats, our Executive, and at least the Senate.”

This reasoning was further affirmed by Judge John Keenan in his decision to dismiss New York City’s climate lawsuit back in July:

“Climate change is a fact of life, as is not contested by Defendants. But the serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate.”

Despite repeated failures of cities around the country, Boulder and Baltimore are still attempting to get their cases heard in state court, hoping their cases will see a different outcome than those brought by San Francisco, Oakland and New York City.

Manufacturers are reiterating the same arguments in the Boulder and Baltimore cases. In the Boulder case, the companies note:

“Plaintiffs seek to accomplish indirectly what they cannot do directly: reshape national economic and foreign policies by hold by holding four energy companies liable for harms allegedly caused by worldwide fossil fuel production and the global greenhouse gas emissions of countless nonparties. Indeed, each of Plaintiffs’ six causes of action—public nuisance, private nuisance, trespass, unjust enrichment, violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, and civil conspiracy—is premised on the cumulative effects of global GHG emissions. Such claims belong in federal court.”

Similarly, in the Baltimore case, manufacturers argue:

“Plaintiff’s claims, therefore, are not limited to harms caused by fossil fuels extracted, refined, sold, marketed, or consumed in Baltimore (or even in Maryland). In fact, Plaintiff has not even attempted to plead facts that would permit the Court to make these distinctions. Rather, Plaintiff’s claims depend on Defendants’ nationwide and global activities and the activities of consumers of fossil fuels worldwide, which include not only entities like the federal government, the United States military, foreign governments, state governments, and local governments (like Baltimore), but also hospitals, schools, factories, and individual households.”

Ultimately, the debate between whether the public nuisance cases should be heard in federal versus state court highlights the absurdity of the premise underlying these cases. Attempting to game the judicial system to hold a handful of companies liable for a global issue, rather than deferring to the executive and legislative branches of government, to which that power is reserved, is far-fetched at best.

To make matters worse, these lawsuits are damaging to the manufacturers targeted and present negative implications for manufacturers all around the country. This is why the Manufacturers’ Accountability Project is calling for an end to baseless public nuisance litigation against manufacturers and promoting a collaborative effort to address this global issue.

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