Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Dismisses Climate Change Lawsuit

On Friday, January 17, 2020, a three-judge panel in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded a climate change lawsuit brought by Our Children’s Trust against the federal government. The panel reversed the district court’s interlocutory orders and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the case for lack of standing. The lawsuit involves 21 young people who allege climate-change related injuries caused by the federal government’s “permit[ting], authoriz[ing], and subsidiz[ing] fossil fuel.”

The three-judge panel first assessed the government’s claim that the plaintiffs’ claims must proceed under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), if at all. The panel rejected this argument since the APA provides only for challenges to discrete agency decisions. In this case, however, the plaintiffs “contend that the totality of various government actions contributes to the deprivation of constitutionally protected rights.” The government further contended that, because the APA provides a “comprehensive remedial scheme,” the plaintiffs are barred from bringing freestanding constitutional claims. The panel was not persuaded by this argument argument because the APA does not present a clear congressional intent to bar such freestanding constitutional claims.

The government further challenged the plaintiffs’ claims on the grounds that the plaintiffs lack Article III standing. The panel found that the plaintiffs could demonstrate “a concrete and particularized injury that. . . is caused by the challenged conduct.” However, the panel found issues with the redressability requirement. Specifically, because the plaintiffs requested “remedial declaratory and injunctive relief,” the panel did not find that the requested relief would “alone solve global climate change.” Further, the panel held that the specific relief sought is not within the power of an Article III court since “any effective plan would necessarily require a host of complex policy decisions entrusted, for better or worse, to the wisdom and discretion of the executive and legislative branches.” Because an Article III court would be required to determine whether such a plan is sufficient to remediate the alleged injuries, the redressability requirement could not reasonably be met.

Additional Reading

21 kids sued the government over climate change. A federal court dismissed the case., Vox (January 17, 2020)

Juliana v. United States, No. 18-36082 (9th Cir. 2020)