Supreme Court Rejects Oil Company Appeals in Climate Change Cases

On April 24, 2023, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Suncor Energy and Exxon Mobil in a climate change case now proceeding in a Colorado state court. The case reached the Supreme Court after the Colorado court refused a move to transfer the case to a more hospitable federal court, and a federal appeals court in Denver sided with the state court. Federal courts are much more likely to dismiss climate change cases brought by states and cities on the ground that climate change is a global problem that cannot be addressed on the basis of state tort law. All told, six federal appeals courts have now rejected attempts by the nation’s biggest oil companies to move these cases to federal courts. And the Supreme Court has refused to hear any of their appeals.

The appeals were based on the claim that global warming requires a federal solution, and that federal law supersedes state attempts to deal with the problem on a piecemeal state-by-state basis. It is expected that oil companies will continue to move currently pending cases to federal courts in the hope that the Supreme Court will ultimately take up one of the cases for review. This strategy will likely delay the outcome of these cases for years until every appeal is exhausted. In the meantime, the major oil companies will be forced to deal with the claims of states and cities on the merits, and face trials that could result in billions of dollars in liabilities found by local juries.