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To have standing under U.S. Const. art. III, a plaintiff must have (1) a concrete and particularized injury that (2) is caused by the challenged conduct and (3) is likely redressable by a favorable judicial decision. A plaintiff need only establish a genuine dispute as to these requirements to survive summary judgment.
Plaintiffs, twenty-one young citizens, an environmental organization, and a “representative of future generations,” filed a complaint against the President, the United States, and federal agencies, arguing that the government’s act of continuing to “permit, authorize, and subsidize” fossil fuel use despite long being aware of its risks caused various climate-change injuries to the plaintiffs. Some plaintiffs claimed psychological harm, others impairment to recreational interests, others exacerbated medical conditions, and others damage to property. The complaint asserted violations of: (i) the plaintiffs' substantive rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment; (ii) the plaintiffs' rights under the Fifth Amendment to equal protection of the law; (iii) the plaintiffs' rights under the Ninth Amendment; and (iv) the public trust doctrine. The plaintiffs seek declaratory relief and an injunction ordering the government to implement a plan to "phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric carbon dioxide.” The government filed a Motion to Dismiss, which the district court denied, holding that the plaintiffs had standing to sue, raised justiciable questions, and stated a claim for infringement of a Fifth Amendment due process right to a "climate system capable of sustaining human life." The court also concluded that the plaintiffs had stated a viable "danger-creation due process claim" arising from the government's failure to regulate third-party emissions. Finally, the court held that the plaintiffs had stated a public trust claim grounded in the Fifth and the Ninth Amendments. The government then moved for summary judgment and judgment on the pleadings. The district court granted summary judgment on the Ninth Amendment claim, dismissed the President as a defendant, and dismissed the equal protection claim in part. However, the district court otherwise denied the government's motions, again holding that the plaintiffs had standing to sue and finding that they had presented sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment.
Did plaintiffs have standing to sue the federal government for alleged climate-change related injuries caused by the federal government’s act of continuing to “permit, authorize, and subsidize” fossil fuel?
The Court noted that in order to establish a U.S. Const. art. III redressability, the plaintiffs must show that the relief they seek was both substantially likely to redress their injuries, and within the district court's power to award. In the case at bar, the Court held that plaintiffs lacked U.S. Const. art. III standing to bring their claims as they failed to show that the relief they sought was substantially likely to redress their injuries, and regardless, plaintiffs failed to establish that the specific relief they sought was within the power of an Article III court. According to the Court, it was beyond the power of an Article III court to order, design, supervise, or implement the plaintiffs' requested remedial plan where any effective plan would necessarily require a host of complex policy decisions entrusted to the wisdom and discretion of the executive and legislative branches. As such, the Court concluded that the plaintiffs' case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large.