Baltimore gets venue win in climate case against Exxon, BP

3 minute read

The logo of Exxon Mobil Corporation is shown on a monitor above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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  • 4th Circuit remands Baltimore's lawsuit against oil giants to state court
  • 10th Circuit also sent a similar climate case to state court after Supreme Court ruling

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Thursday again sent a lawsuit by the city of Baltimore seeking to hold energy giants such as ExxonMobil, BP PLC and Chevron Corp responsible for climate change back to state court after the U.S. Supreme Court directed it to take a second look.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "resoundingly" rejected the companies' arguments that Baltimore's state-law claims were inherently federal because it sought to hold them liable based on the production and sale of oil and gas abroad.

The companies argued the Clean Air Act is the exclusive vehicle to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and that Baltimore's state-law claims conflicted with federal interests.

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But Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Roger Gregory said the city's lawsuit had nothing to do with federal common law and that the companies "do not point to any significant conflict existing between Maryland law and their purported federal interests."

"The impacts of climate change undoubtably have local, national, and international ramifications," he wrote for a three-judge panel. "But those consequences do not necessarily confer jurisdiction upon federal courts carte blanche."

Litigating in state courts is typically perceived as advantageous for plaintiffs.

Sara Gross, who heads the affirmative litigation division of the Baltimore City Department of Law, in a statement called the ruling "a big win for Baltimore’s residents, workers, businesses and taxpayers."

Exxon Mobil, whose attorney Kannon Shanmugam at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison argued for all the companies, in a statement called the claims "baseless and without merit" and said it was evaluating its next steps.

The ruling marked the second time the Richmond, Virginia-based court remanded the case amid a broad effort by the companies to force about two dozen similar cases by state and local governments filed in state courts into federal court.

Baltimore's 2018 complaint claims the companies deceived the public about the dangers associated with their fossil-fuel products, which contributed to greenhouse-gas pollution and climate change.

The lawsuit alleged they created a public nuisance and should be forced to cover the climate-change costs the city faces, including increased infrastructure spending.

The 4th Circuit had sent the Baltimore case back to state court in 2020, but the Supreme Court in May 2021 held it did not correctly analyze the issues and sent the case back.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February became the first federal appeals court after that ruling to remand a lawsuit after it sent a case by Colorado municipalities back to state court.

The case is Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. BP PLC, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-1644.

For Baltimore: Vic Sher of Sher Edling

For Exxon: Kannon Shanmugam of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at