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Federal common law addressing domestic greenhouse gas emissions has been displaced by Congressional action. That determination displaces federal common law public nuisance actions seeking damages, as well as those actions seeking injunctive relief. If Congress has addressed a federal issue by statute, then there is no gap for federal common law to fill. Federal common law is used as a necessary expedient when Congress has not spoken to a particular issue.
Native Village of Kivalina and the City of Kivalina (collectively, “appellants”) filed an action against multiple oil, energy, and utility companies (collectively "Energy Producers"), alleging that the massive greenhouse gas emissions emitted by the Energy Producers have resulted in global warming, which, in turn, has severely eroded the land where the City of Kivalina sat and threatened it with imminent destruction. Kivalina sought damages under a federal common law claim of public nuisance. The district court dismissed appellants’ action for damages. Appellants challenged the decision.
Could the appellants’ action for damages under a federal common law claim of public nuisance continue, notwithstanding the existence of a federal statute, i.e., Clean Air Act, addressing the issue?
The court noted that the right to assert a federal common law public nuisance claim has limits. Claims can be brought under federal common law for public nuisance only when the courts were compelled to consider federal questions which cannot be answered from federal statutes alone. On the other hand, when federal statutes directly answer the federal question, federal common law did not provide a remedy because legislative action has displaced the common law. According to the court, Federal common law is subject to the paramount authority of Congress. In this case, the court held that Congress has directly addressed the issue of domestic greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources and has therefore displaced federal common law - the Clean Air Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency action that the Act authorized, displaced appellants' common law nuisance claims. That determination displaces federal common law public nuisance actions seeking damages, as well as those actions seeking injunctive relief. The civil conspiracy claim fell with the substantive claim. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.