A Third Circuit panel considering a pair of lawsuits filed against dozens of oil industry giants kept the cases in state court in an opinion filed last week. The climate change suits, the judges found, cannot be removed to federal court as they do not concern federal law.
The lawsuits were filed by the state of Delaware and the city of Hoboken, N.J., seeking recompense under state law for environmental damage, which the plaintiffs say was caused by the oil industry defendants. The defendants attempted to remove both cases to federal court, the opinion said, arguing that the tort claims were truly federal in nature, concerned “substantive federal issues,” and concerned oil production in federally overseen waters.
In supporting their decision to keep the cases in state court appellate judges noted that four other circuits have rejected these attempts.. They ruled that the claims cannot be tried in federal court because they allege breaches of state tort law, and do not raise a substantial question of federal law. They rejected arguments that the claims were preempted by federal law, and that the claims raise First Amendment concerns.
The court also rejected the defendants’ arguments that the cases can be tried under federal law because it concerns offshore oil extraction, statutorily the purview of federal courts. However, the court found that the suit, concerning coastal environmental damage caused by sea level rise, was too far removed from the act of oil drilling for the statute to apply.
“Climate change is an important problem with national and global implications. But federal courts cannot hear cases just because they are important. The Constitution restricts us to re-solving claims that are about federal law or that Congress has expressly authorized us to hear,” the opinion stated.