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Verdicts & Settlements

Federal Appeals Court Squashes Landmark “Climate Kids” Lawsuit

— May 1, 2024

A panel of federal appellate judges ordered a lower court to dismiss a landmark climate change lawsuit.

A federal appeals court has dismissed a longstanding lawsuit filed by Oregon-based youth activists, who had claimed that the American government’s failure to take concrete action against climate change is an infringement of their constitutional rights.

According to The Associated Press, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had already ordered the case dismissed in 2020. In its original ruling, the panel said that questions of climate policy are best left to legislators.

However, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken allowed the activists to amend and refile their lawsuit—and, last year, said that the complaint could proceed to trial.

Earlier this week, though, the case was again returned to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Associated Press notes that, acting on a request from the Biden administration, the appeals court issued directing Aiken to dismiss the lawsuit outright.

Julia Olson, an attorney for Our Children’s Trust—the nonprofit organization representing the young plaintiffs—said that her team is considering asking the 9th Circuit to rehear the matter with a larger panel of judges.

“I have been pleading for my government to hear our case since I was 10 years old, and now I am nearly 19,” activist and plaintiff Avery McRae said in a press release. “A functioning democracy would not make a child beg for their rights to be protected in the courts, just to be ignored nearly a decade later.”

“I am fed up with the continuous attempts to squash this case and silence our voices,” she said.

Image via GDJ/Pixabay. (CCA-BY-0.0). Public domain.

The lawsuit, first filed in 2015 on behalf of 21 plaintiffs, argued that American children have a constitutional right to a climate that sustains life. The U.S. government infringed upon this right, attorneys said, by encouraging the continued use of fossil fuels.

POLITICO reports that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision was based, in part, on faults it purportedly identified in Aiken’s order reinstating the amended complaint.

Aiken had, for instance, said that the appellate panel’s order did not explicitly prohibit the refiling of an amended lawsuit—but the 9th Circuit now says that “neither the mandate’s letter nor its spirit left room for” alteration.

Despite the apparent defeat, The Associated Press observes that another high-profile climate lawsuit recently found success in Montana, where the state Supreme Court upheld a decision requiring that regulators consider the potential effects of greenhouse gas emissions when issuing permits for fossil fuel development.


Appeals court orders youth climate suit dismissed — again

Appeals court rejects climate change lawsuit by young Oregon activists against US government

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