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Baltimore’s climate change suit against Big Oil heads to Supreme Court again

Baltimore’s multimillion-dollar climate change lawsuit against the oil industry will head to the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time on the preliminary matter of whether the case will be litigated in federal or city circuit court.

In recently filed papers, about two dozen oil companies told Chief Justice John Roberts through counsel that they will urge the court to hear their appeal and rule they have a common law right to have their case heard in federal court because the harm they allegedly caused Baltimore arose from their operations outside of Maryland.

The companies’ lead counsel announced their intention to appeal and outlined their argument in asking Roberts to give them more time to file their formal petition for Supreme Court review of a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision. Roberts, the justice assigned to oversee the 4th Circuit, granted the attorney’s requested 60-day extension until Oct. 14, which was based on the attorney’s busy appellate court schedule.

“This case presents weighty and complex issues concerning the proper forum to litigate putative state-law claims that seek to hold energy companies liable for the effects of global climate change,” attorney Kannon K. Shanmugam wrote to Roberts. “This (Supreme) Court’s decisions establish that federal common law necessarily and exclusively supplies the rule of decision for certain narrow categories of claims that implicate uniquely federal interests, including where the interstate or international nature of the controversy makes it inappropriate for state law to control.”

Shanmugam chairs the Supreme Court and appellate practice group at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where he also serves as managing partner of the Washington office.

RELATED: Big Oil Seeks full 4th Circuit review in Baltimore’s climate change suit

The Baltimore City Law Department declined to comment Monday on the companies’ preliminary high court filing.

The filing is docketed at the Supreme Court as BP PLC. v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, No. 22A84.

A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit rejected Shanmugam’s argument in April, saying Baltimore’s claims of environmental harm are rooted in Maryland law and thus belong in state court. The full 15-member 4th Circuit denied without comment the companies’ request for its consideration in May, prompting them to turn again to the Supreme Court.

The city’s lawsuit, filed in 2018 in Baltimore City Circuit Court, seeks millions of dollars in damages for the companies’ alleged violations of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, as well as products liability, public nuisance and trespass.

The companies, which are facing similar litigation in many other states, deny the allegations. They have sought to have Baltimore’s case heard in federal court, where civil litigators have opined that the companies believe they have a better chance for a pretrial victory than in state court.

U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander remanded the case to Baltimore City Circuit Court in June 2019, saying the city’s state law claims did not implicate federal jurisdiction.

The 4th Circuit agreed soon after, prompting the companies’ first appeal to the Supreme Court.

In May 2021, the high court ruled that the 4th Circuit erroneously held that federal courts lacked statutory jurisdiction over the case because the oil companies did not act at the direction of a federal officer. The justices, however, did not automatically grant federal jurisdiction over Baltimore’s lawsuit, choosing to leave that decision in the first instance to the 4th Circuit.

The 4th Circuit again ruled for Baltimore last spring.

“Given the jurisdictional inquiry before us, we take no view on whether Baltimore will ultimately fail or succeed in proving its claims under Maryland law,” Judge Henry F. Floyd wrote. “We cannot decide those questions. But we are confident that Maryland courts can capably adjudicate claims arising under their own laws that fail to otherwise provide any federal jurisdiction.”

The 4th Circuit issued its published decision in Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. BP PLC et al., No. 19-1644.

The companies being sued by Baltimore include BP America Inc., Chevron Corp., CITGO Petroleum Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Exxon Mobil Corp., Hess Corp., Marathon Petroleum Corp., Phillips 66 and Shell Oil Co.

One comment

  1. This lawsuit is the most retarded and fantastical idiocy I have ever seen in my half a century on earth. If the climate doesn’t end up changing or it does and nothing bad comes of it, then all of these activists should have their lives forfeit.