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State Climate Change Lawsuit: Green Light from Federal Appeals Court

Mar 09, 2020

State jurisdiction over climate change damage claims was confirmed this week in a unanimous decision from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The federal reviewing court ruled claims based upon Maryland state law for climate change damages, as filed by the City of Baltimore, may proceed in state court.

Remand Based Upon “Narrow Question” of Federal Removal Statute

The Fourth Circuit is specific in its ruling that the decision is “only about whether one path to federal court lies open” with “the narrow question before us” resulting in the conclusion that 28 U.S.C. § 1442 (the federal officer removal statute) does not provide a proper basis for removal of Baltimore’s case from the Maryland state courts, resulting in its March 6th remand. Opinion, p. 5.

District Court Rejected All 8 Removal Arguments of O&G Defendants

Of note, the federal district court rejected all eight removal arguments advanced by the defendants. Opinion, p. 8; see also, Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. BP PLC, 388 F. Supp. 3d 538 (D. Md. 2019).

Read the full opinion below in Cause No. 19-1644 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, styled City of Baltimore v. BP P.L.C., et al.

This is the first federal appeals court to decide on the viability of state law claims for climate change. It is a major victory for those in the fight against climate change caused by fossil fuel extraction in this country.

In the Maryland case, the municipality is suing 26 multinational oil and gas companies for damages based upon a variety of state laws, including: (1) product liability; (2) consumer protection; and (3) nuisance. It seeks monetary damages and statutory penalties as well as equitable relief.

Failed arguments by the fossil fuel industry against state jurisdiction included their stance that climate change litigation should proceed under federal laws governing the oil & gas industry and the extraction of fossil fuels as greenhouse gas emissions are understood to be the basis for global warming.

Baltimore’s Allegations

The City of Baltimore is seeking damages from the major players in the oil and gas industry based upon decades of intentional misconduct which has resulted in environment harm. From the Opinion:

Baltimore argues that these oil and gas companies “… despite knowing about the direct link between fossil fuel use and global warming for nearly fifty years, Defendants have engaged in a “coordinated, multi-front effort” to conceal that knowledge; have tried to discredit the growing body of publicly available scientific evidence by championing sophisticated disinformation campaigns; and have actively attempted to undermine public support for regulation of their business practices, all while promoting the unrestrained and expanded use of their fossil fuel products.” Opinion, pp. 5-6.

Baltimore is accordingly seeking damages for climate-change injuries that include “an increase in sea levels, storms, floods, heatwaves, droughts, and extreme precipitation.” Opinion, p. 6.

Texas Environmental Damage Claims

Over the years we have come to know all too well how blatantly the oil and gas industry is polluting our lands and waters in their pursuit of profits. Our law firm has extensive experience in fighting large corporations in the courtroom, having achieved the rare distinction of having four nine-figure jury megaverdicts against major corporate defendants.

WRDB has also dealt specifically with major oil and gas industry players and companies involved in fracking operations and environmental negligence.

Remember When Corpus Christi’s Drinking Water Was Too Dangerous to Drink?

In December 2016, the City of Corpus Christi was notified that the city’s drinking water was filled with toxic chemicals. Corpus Christi tap water was dangerous to drink. The specific toxin was found to be Indulin AA-86, a known carcinogen.

Firm co-founder David Rumley thereafter instituted a series of claims against Valero in multi-district litigation seeking both actual and exemplary damages against the petroleum company for what was argued as act or omissions of “extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others of which [Valero] had actual awareness, but nevertheless proceeded with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.”

For more, see our Contamination Injury - Environmental Negligence page.

Read the Opinion:


For information on how civil lawsuits can address environmental harm resulting from climate change, please check out our Climate Change Litigation page.