SCOTUS takes a pass on Chevron appeal in climate lawsuit

A Chevron gas station sign is seen in Del Mar, California
A Chevron gas station sign is seen in Del Mar, California, April 25, 2013. Chevron will report earnings on April 26. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a bid by Chevron Corp, BP Plc and other major oil companies to have the court weigh in on their attempts to keep lawsuits over their contributions to climate change in federal court.

The high court did not explain its reasoning for denying the oil companies' petition for review of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the climate change cases, which were brought by Oakland and San Francisco. The companies had petitioned the justices in January to grant review in the event defendants in a case involving similar allegations, BP Plc v. Baltimore, did not prevail. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the oil companies in the Baltimore case in May.

Chevron spokesperson Braden Reddall said that the lawsuits by Oakland and San Francisco "improperly seek to hold select energy companies liable for harms attributable to global climate change."

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a joint statement they were pleased with the outcome. "It's been nearly four years since we filed our suits, and it is now past time to move the cases forward," they said.

BP spokesperson Cameron Nazminia declined to comment.

The 9th Circuit's May 2020 ruling sent the litigation to a San Francisco federal court with instructions to determine if the complaints, amended after the removal to include a federal nuisance claim, gave the district court new grounds to exercise jurisdiction. In that court, motions to remand the case to state court are currently being litigated.

San Francisco and Oakland filed suit in state court in 2017, seeking billions of dollars in damages related to rising sea levels. They allege the companies are liable for maintaining a public nuisance by promoting and selling fossil fuels while knowing that burning them would contribute to climate change.

The oil companies have argued that the cities' claims should be decided in federal court, rather than by the state courts where they were filed, because they raise questions of interstate and international pollution that are exclusively federal in nature.

In the similar case pitting BP against Baltimore, a 7-1 majority of the Supreme Court on May 17 ruled that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had wrongly concluded it lacks jurisdiction to analyze all but one of the companies' grounds for removal, namely whether the companies had acted at the direction of the federal government.

The Oakland, San Francisco and Baltimore cases are among two dozen or so cases brought by state and local governments accusing major oil and gas companies of contributing to the effects of climate change by selling fossil fuels.

Justice Samuel Alito took no part in Monday's decision denying cert.

The case is Chevron Corp v. City of Oakland, California, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 20-1089.

For Chevron et al.: Peter Keisler of Sidley Austin

For City of Oakland, California, et al.: Victor Sher of Sher Edling

Read more:

9th Circuit sends nuisance lawsuits against oil majors to state court

U.S. court dismisses climate change lawsuits against oil companies

California cities sue big oil firms over climate change

U.S. Supreme Court backs energy companies over Baltimore in climate case

Connecticut climate suit against Exxon sent back to state court

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Thomson Reuters

New York-based correspondent covering environmental, climate and energy litigation.