Beveridge & Diamond
 

Court Dismisses Global Warming Claims for Lack of Standing

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., September 10, 2007

On August 30, a Mississippi federal court dismissed a 2005 lawsuit brought by Gulf Coast property owners against a group of insurers, chemical companies, oil companies and coal companies whose emissions of greenhouse gases, the plaintiffs alleged, exacerbated the strength of Hurricane Katrina. Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., No. 05-CV-436LG (S.D. Miss. Aug. 30, 2007). The plaintiffs sought damages for personal injuries, loss of property, and business interruption associated with Katrina under tort law theories of unjust enrichment, civil conspiracy and aiding and abetting, public and private nuisance, trespass, negligence, and fraudulent misrepresentation and concealment. 

In a two-page decision on a motion to dismiss brought by thirteen of the energy company defendants, Judge Louis Guirola, Jr. of the Southern District of Mississippi ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to assert their claims, and accordingly dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims against all defendants. In addition, the court ruled that the claims raised non-justiciable political questions that could only be addressed by the legislative or executive branches of government. Previously, insurance defendants were dismissed from the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs could seek recovery from the insurers only through actions against each insurance company individually.

The Comer decision is the first since the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA to address whether private parties have standing to seek damages for injuries allegedly caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The Supreme Court ruled that States, such as Massachusetts, had standing to sue based on their special status as sovereign entities; however, the Supreme Court did not address whether the interests of private parties were sufficient to confer federal court jurisdiction over claims for damages against greenhouse gas emitters. The Comer decision suggests that federal courts will be less willing to entertain global warming claims brought by private plaintiffs or citizen groups.  However, it is likely that plaintiffs will appeal.

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