AG Tong Joins Amicus Brief Supporting Efforts to Hold Big Oil Accountable for Misleading the Public, Worsening Climate Crisis

Attorney General William Tong, joining a multi-state coalition of 16 attorneys general led by California, filed an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals supporting the City of Oakland and the City and County of San Francisco’s efforts to hold major fossil fuel-producing companies accountable for their misleading actions that have worsened the climate crisis.

In their consolidated case, City of Oakland v. BP et al., the California municipalities seek to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for misleading the public about the known dangers of fossil fuel combustion and exacerbating the effects of climate change.

In the amicus brief filed Tuesday, the attorneys general ask the Ninth Circuit to uphold a federal district court ruling and allow the case to proceed in state court.

Connecticut has its own pending case against ExxonMobil, where the fossil fuel giant has similarly sought to move the case to federal court. Connecticut sued ExxonMobil in September 2020 under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, alleging an ongoing, systematic campaign of lies and deception to hide from the public what ExxonMobil has known for decades—that burning fossil fuels undeniably contributes to climate change. Connecticut is seeking stop ExxonMobil’s lies, to hold ExxonMobil accountable for these unfair and deceptive practices, to force civil penalties, disgorgement of profiles, and full disclosure of their climate research.

The Office of the Attorney General has been fighting to keep the matter in state court, where it appropriately belongs. Connecticut is awaiting a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on that matter.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined the chance to review Circuit court decisions holding that comparable cases must proceed in state court when it denied oil companies’ petitions for certiorari  in Suncor Energy v. Boulder and several similar cases.

“Big Oil is using the same playbook in cases across the country. The law is clear—these cases involve state law claims and they belong in state court,” said Attorney General Tong in a release.

Although San Francisco and Oakland originally filed separate cases in state court in September 2017, the cases were removed to federal court and consolidated. The plaintiffs then filed a motion to remand the case to state court, which the federal district court initially denied. The Ninth Circuit reversed on appeal in May 2020, finding that Oakland and San Francisco’s state nuisance claims do not arise under federal law. Subsequently, the federal district court granted the plaintiffs’ renewed motion to remand the cases to state court. The case is currently pending in Ninth Circuit after the oil companies’ November 2022 appeal of the district court’s decision that ruled the suit belongs in state court.

In today’s amicus brief, the attorneys general argue that:

• States and municipalities play a vital role in protecting their citizens’ health and welfare from deceptive commercial conduct and environmental harms, including the local effects of climate change.

• State courts are entrusted with, and uniquely capable of, adjudicating state-law claims, even when state-law claims involve issues of national importance.

• Plaintiffs’ state-law claims do not raise a substantial issue of federal law, and fossil fuel companies’ contracts with the military do not entitle the companies to federal jurisdiction.

In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Tong joined the attorneys general of California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the brief can be found here.