Litigation Update – Fifth and Second Circuits Reverse Dismissal of Private Party Climate Change Lawsuits
Twice in recent months, federal appeals courts have opened the door to climate change damage claims by private parties against companies that contribute to global warming.
On October 16, 2009, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Comer, et al. v. Murphy Oil USA, et al. held that residents and owners of lands and property along Mississippi Gulf Coast could assert damage claims from Hurricane Katrina against various oil, energy and chemical companies. The plaintiffs alleged the defendants’ operations caused the emission of greenhouse gases that contributed to global warming causing a rise in sea levels and added to the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina, which combined to destroy the plaintiffs’ property. The plaintiffs seek to recover damages based on claims for public and private nuisance, trespass and negligence. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the action, finding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert their claims and that their claims presented non-justiciable political questions. The appellate court reversed the trial court, which threw out plaintiffs’’ claims and upheld their right to proceed with their claims.
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