Just a month after New Jersey took Big Oil to court, the industry has taken its first step in defense.
Chevron was one of the few named defendants in a consumer fraud lawsuit filed by the attorney general’s office in October. In the case, the state alleges that the companies have misled New Jerseyans for decades about the harms of burning fossil fuels, namely that it causes climate change, in pursuit of profits.
Chevron filed a request last month to transfer the lawsuit from state courts to federal district court. All other defendants in the case — ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips and the American Petroleum Institute — signed on to Chevron’s request last week.
“The latest lawsuit filed by the New Jersey Attorney General is set to be heard in federal court,” Theodore Boutros Jr., an attorney for Chevron, said in a statement to NJ Spotlight News. “Climate change is a global phenomenon that requires a coordinated federal policy response, not fragmented lawsuits filed in state courts.”
The Prosecutor General’s Office refused to comment on the court proceedings.
Chevron’s bid for a change of venue was widely anticipated and followed a familiar pattern.
“This is a move by Big Oil when they are faced with a climate liability lawsuit in state court. They’re doing everything they can to try to avoid justice and avoid being prosecuted for their climate lies in state court,” said Mike Meno, a spokesman for the Center for Climate Integrity, which advocates for the oil industry to pay for climate change. damage modification and litigation .
“It’s been a losing strategy for oil and gas companies across the country,” Meno added.
In general, large corporations and industry groups often seek to move litigation as a delaying tactic and because federal courts operate under different procedural rules, according to Steve Gold, a professor of environmental law at Rutgers Law School. These differences are often perceived in favor of the accused.
But in this case, a request for a change of venue is also a request to change what is fundamentally about the court, Gold said.
“What the defendants are trying to do is they’re trying to make this case about federal energy policy and fossil fuel use in general,” Gold said.
There are many cases in the courts
New Jersey’s lawsuit against the oil companies is at the beginning of a very long journey. Since 2017, more than 20 similar cases have been filed by states, counties, municipalities and human rights groups across the country. according to the Center for Climate Integrity.
Hoboken filed a similar lawsuit in 2020. In that case, the oil companies also sought to move the lawsuit to federal court. In August, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city’s case should remain in state court.
“Our federal system trusts state courts to hear most cases — even big, important ones that raise federal protections.” — Judge Stephen Bibas wrote in a unanimous Third Circuit decision. “Plaintiffs choose which lawsuits to file, in which court and under which legislation. Defendants may prefer federal court, but they may not take their cases to federal court unless permitted by federal law. And here – no.”
But the oil industry and its lawyers have had success in other cases around the country.
Butrus, a Chevron lawyer, noted that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the dismissal New York lawsuit against major oil companies. In that case, the city’s complaint was brought under New York state tort law, but the Second Circuit ruled that it was a federal common law issue.
“The question before us is whether municipalities may use state tort law to hold multinational oil companies liable for damages caused by global greenhouse gas emissions,” Judge Richard Sullivan wrote in that decision. “Given the nature of the damage and the existence of a complex web of federal and international environmental laws governing such releases, we believe the answer is no.”
But Gold said that if the New Jersey case ends up in the Third Circuit, the appeals court will likely uphold the precedent set in the Hoboken case.
“They know they lost those arguments in the Third Circuit,” Gold said of the oil industry. “They’re hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn it.”
The nation’s highest court may soon decide where these cases will be heard. Earlier this week, Reuters reported that oil companies facing lawsuits from the state of Rhode Island and municipalities in Hawaii asked the Supreme Court to move the cases from state courts to the federal system.