Appeals Court Allows “Youth” Climate Change Suit to Proceed

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to block a suit filed by 21 young persons against the federal government. The suit alleges violation of constitutional rights from federal action contributing to climate change.

The federal government asked the Ninth Circuit to dismiss the suit after the district (trial level) judge in Oregon had denied the government’s dismissal motion.

Government Could Not Meet High Burden
Having an appellate court order dismiss a pending suit is very rare, and such requests must meet a high burden.  According to the Ninth Circuit, the government could not meet this burden, although the ruling was without prejudice to the government making the same arguments to the trial court or upon appeal if the district court grants any relief to the plaintiffs.

The government made its request to the Ninth Circuit in June 2017; it also requested a stay of all proceedings while the Ninth Circuit considered the request.  The Ninth Circuit agreed to stay the case during its consideration, which may have given the government some hope of success.  However, the Ninth Circuit has now denied the request.

President Trump Elected while Suit Pending
While perhaps a coincidence, the district judge denied the government’s motion to dismiss the case two days after the 2016 election.

Also, several industry groups had intervened when the Obama administration was defending the case.  These entities may have feared that the Obama administration might reach a settlement of the case harmful to the interests of their members.  A few months after President Trump took office, the industry groups asked to withdraw from the case, with at least one of them stating publicly it now had confidence the government would rigorously defend the case.  The district court approved the withdrawal.

In public statements applauding the Ninth Circuit’s decision not to dismiss the case, the lawyers and organizations representing or assisting the young plaintiffs made public statements characterizing the case as a battle against the “Trump administration,” even though the case was filed during the Obama administration.

The case is now back at the district court in Oregon.

For a copy of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion, http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2018/03/07/17-71692.pdf

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