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County of San Mateo v. Chevron Corp.

United States District Court for the Northern District of California

March 16, 2018, Decided; March 16, 2018, Filed

Case No. 17-cv-04929-VC; Case No. 17-cv-04934-VC; Case No. 17-cv-04935-VC

Opinion

 [*937] Re: [**21]  Dkt. No. 144

Re: Dkt. No. 140

ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS TO REMAND

Re: Dkt. No. 140

The plaintiffs' motions to remand are granted.

1. Removal based on federal common law was not warranted. In American Electric Power Co., Inc. v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court held that the Clean Air Act displaces federal common law claims that seek the abatement of greenhouse gas emissions. 564 U.S. 410, 424, 131 S. Ct. 2527, 180 L. Ed. 2d 435 (2011). Far from holding (as the defendants bravely assert) that state law claims relating to global warming are superseded by federal common law, the Supreme Court noted that the question of whether such state law claims survived would depend on whether they are preempted by the federal statute that had displaced federal common law (a question the Court did not resolve). Id. at 429. This seems to reflect the Court's view that once federal common law is displaced by a federal statute, there is no longer a possibility that state law claims could be superseded by the previously-operative federal common law.

Applying American Electric Power, ] the Ninth Circuit concluded in Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp. that federal common law is displaced by the Clean Air Act not only when plaintiffs seek injunctive relief to curb emissions [**22]  but also when they seek damages for a defendant's contribution to global warming. 696 F.3d 849, 857-58 (9th Cir. 2012). The plaintiffs in the current cases are seeking similar relief based on similar conduct, which means that federal common law does not govern their claims. In this respect, the Court disagrees with People of the State of California v. BP P.L.C., Nos. C 17-06011 WHA, C 17-06012 WHA, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32990 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 27, 2018), which concluded that San Francisco and Oakland's current lawsuits are materially different from Kivalina such that federal common law could play a role in the current lawsuits brought by the localities even while it could not in Kivalina. Like the localities in the current cases, the Kivalina plaintiffs sought damages resulting from rising sea levels and land erosion. Not coincidentally, there is significant overlap between the defendants in Kivalina and the defendants in the current cases. 696 F.3d at 853-54 & n.1. The description of the claims asserted was also nearly identical in Kivalina and the current cases: that the defendants' contributions to greenhouse gas emissions constituted "a substantial and unreasonable interference with public rights." Id. at 854. Given these facts, Kivalina stands for the proposition that ] federal [**23]  common law is not just displaced when it comes to claims against domestic sources of emissions but also when it comes to claims against energy producers' contributions to global warming and rising sea levels. Id. at 854-58. Put another way, American Electric Power did not confine its holding about the displacement of federal common law to particular sources of emissions, and Kivalina did not apply American Electric Power in such a limited way.

Because federal common law does not govern the plaintiffs' claims, it also does not preclude them from asserting the state law claims in these lawsuits. Simply put, these cases should not have been removed to federal court on the basis of federal common law that no longer exists.

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294 F. Supp. 3d 934 *; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49197 **; 48 ELR 20051; 86 ERC (BNA) 1119; 2018 WL 1414774

COUNTY OF SAN MATEO, Plaintiff, v. CHEVRON CORP., et al., Defendants.CITY OF IMPERIAL BEACH, Plaintiff, v. CHEVRON CORP., et al., Defendants.COUNTY OF MARIN, Plaintiff, v. CHEVRON CORP., et al., Defendants.

Subsequent History: Request granted, Petition denied by Cty. of San Mateo v. Chevron Corp., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 13451 (9th Cir. Cal., May 22, 2018)

Related proceeding at City of Oakland v. BP P.L.C., 325 F. Supp. 3d 1017, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106895 (N.D. Cal., June 25, 2018)

Motion granted by Cty. of San Mateo v. Chevron Corp., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 23269 (9th Cir. Cal., Aug. 20, 2018)

Affirmed by, in part, Appeal dismissed by, in part County of San Mateo v. Chevron Corp., 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 16643 (9th Cir. Cal., May 26, 2020)

CORE TERMS

preemption, displaced, emissions, preempted, lawsuits

Business & Corporate Compliance, Climate Change, Environmental Law, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Supremacy Clause, Federal Preemption, Governments, Courts, Common Law, Civil Procedure, Removal, Elements for Removal, Removability