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Apr 01, 2020
In the last few years, coastal municipalities and communities throughout the United States have filed several near-identical state common law nuisance claims against major oil companies for contributing to climate change through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While the claims raise numerous interesting and difficult questions, one major issue is whether such state common law claims belong in federal or state court.
Two concurrent cases on this issue are County of San Mateo v. Chevron Corp. and City of Oakland v. BP. After the plaintiffs in both cases filed complaints in California Superior Court against GHG emitters for climate- change damage, the defendants removed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. In justifying removal, the defendants in both cases cited identical federal statutes. Yet, in determining the plaintiffs’ motions to remand, the two courts reached inconsistent conclusions: Judge Chhabria, presiding over San Mateo, granted the plaintiffs’ motion to remand, while Judge Alsup, presiding over Oakland, denied the plaintiffs’ motion to remand.
This In Brief examines whether federal jurisdiction is proper. Because neither federal question jurisdiction nor any other applicable federal statute provides adequate justification for removal, this In Brief concludes that these claims are best adjudicated under state law and in state courts. Although state law is inconclusive as to the final merits of these specific state common law nuisance and trespass claims addressing GHG emissions, the claims are not properly governed by federal common law or the Clean Air Act (CAA).
Part I of this In Brief provides the legal and factual context for both lawsuits by surveying the doctrinal framework surrounding the question of removal and preemption and analyzing case history. Part II presents the legal arguments that led Judges Chhabria and Alsup to different conclusions. Finally, Part III scrutinizes the conflicting justifications for federal and state litigation and concludes that these claims are best litigated in state court.