DETAILS OF PROCEEDINGS
The following significant developments in this landmark climate lawsuit are described in reverse chronological order.
February 7, 2017
Update from Case Management Conference
Magistrate Judge Coffin asked that today's conference be used to “take what appears to be a complex case and see how we can simplify it to where it's more understandable and more manageable.”
Judge Coffin highlighted progress already made by plaintiffs and the federal defendants. Noting that the federal government’s answer admits many of plaintiffs’ allegations, Judge Coffin said: “To summarize, the government has admitted that, yes, climate change is a reality and that, yes, it's induced by human activity, and they admit that CO2 right now is at a level of 400 parts per million, which exceeds the level -- is the highest level in millions of years.”
Counsel for the fossil fuel defendants said his clients could not admit CO2 levels have reached 400 PPM. Judge Coffin asked that fossil fuel defendants’ counsel take to his clients for their review and response a list of the US government’s admissions.
Judge Coffin kept the parties forward-looking. Noting that under plaintiffs’ “public trust doctrine argument, it doesn't really matter what was known, who knew it, whether they deliberately ignored it and created a danger. What matters there is where are we now and where will this go if changes aren't made.” And that this case will mainly be:
“…guided by expert testimony in terms of the main issue: Is climate change happening, is it human induced, is there a tipping point, is the CO2 level currently at 400 PPM, is it necessary to reduce that to 350 PPM by a certain point in time, or is the damage to the planet going to essentially be irreversible if that's not done.”
Judge Coffin ordered the parties to “begin by engaging the experts,” even while also pursuing fact discovery. While, as Judge Coffin noted, “a lot of [federal defendants’] experts agree with [plaintiffs’] assessment,” counsel for federal defendants said the government “ha[s] to make an affirmative case,” and that defense counsel “now have the unenviable task of scouring the world's research institutions and universities to find our own experts, to build our own model as to what -- what's going on here.”
Judge Coffin proposed the trial be held in two phases. A first phase on the issue of liability:
“Is climate change happening? Are there levels beyond which it's going to be irreversible or extraordinarily harmful? Is it human induced? Is the government responsible and did the government cause any of it and are the plaintiffs' constitutional rights violated by what's happening in terms of climate change?”
If liability is found, a second, “remedy phase” of the trial will follow.
Other developments include: news that Judge Coffin will hold monthly status conferences (telephonically, unless otherwise indicated), the next one scheduled for March 8, 2017; an order for plaintiffs to begin disclosing experts in 45 days and do so on a rolling basis – with defendants expert disclosures to begin 21 days thereafter; and all parties agreed that should any plaintiff sit for a deposition, the contents of their testimony will be covered under a protective order.
November 28, 2016
Update from Case Management Conference
Today, during the case management conference with the federal court, plaintiffs, and defendants, in Juliana v. U.S., the court made clear that the case will move quickly to trial with a trial during the summer or early fall of 2017, despite defendants' concerns that discovery could take 5 years.
“We are not going to take five years to try this case. That’s not going to happen,” said Magistrate Judge Coffin.
Both sets of defendants said they would not cause delays in the case.
“We will push quickly to trial. The urgency of the climate emergency demands it,” said Julia Olson, counsel for Plaintiffs.
Judge Coffin will handle pretrial matters. Judge Ann Aiken will conduct the trial, unless the parties agree to consent to the Magistrate Judge deciding the case on the merits.
Defendants have stated they will not consent to the Magistrate Judge. Intervenor Defendants will file an answer to Plaintiffs’ complaint by December 15, 2016. Federal Defendants will file an answer to Plaintiffs’ complaint by January 13, 2017. The parties will submit proposed schedules for discovery and any pre-trial motions by January 31, 2017.
The court will hold another case management conference on February 7, 2017 to finalize those dates and set a schedule for trial in mid-2017. The court indicated that it will address injunctive relief after hearing all of the evidence at trial.
Photo: Our Children’s Trust staff participating in telephonic case management conference. (Robin Loznak Photography, LLC)
November 10, 2016
Victory for America’s Youth – Constitutional Climate Lawsuit against U.S. to Proceed
Federal Judge Ann Aiken rejects U.S. government and fossil fuel industries motions to dismiss
Eugene, OR – Today, the federal court in Eugene, Oregon decided in favor of 21 youth plaintiffs in their “groundbreaking” constitutional climate lawsuit against President Obama, numerous federal agencies, and the fossil fuel industry. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken completely rejected all arguments to dismiss raised by the federal government and fossil fuel industry, determining that the young plaintiffs’ constitutional and public trust claims could proceed. Now, the 21 plaintiffs, who range in age from 9-20, are preparing for trial in what is believed to be a turning point in United States constitutional history.
September 13, 2016
Federal District Court Judge Ann Aiken heard oral arguments in Juliana et. al. v. United States et. al.
The following images are two exhibits that plaintiffs' attorneys presented to the court:
September 12, 2016
League of Women Voters File Amicus Brief In Support of Youth’s Constitutional Climate Lawsuit
The League of Women Voters of the United States and the League of Women Voters of Oregon filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the constitutional climate change lawsuit brought by 21 young plaintiffs from across America.
June 9, 2016
U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken scheduled oral argument for youths’ landmark climate lawsuit for September 13, at 10 am PST in Eugene, OR. The 21 young plaintiffs received a favorable decision in their case brought against the federal government and fossil fuel industry from U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin back in April. Now, they are looking forward to their next opportunity to appear in court to fight for climate justice.
April 8, 2016
Judge Coffin Rules in Favor of Youth Denying Motions to Dismiss
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the U.S. District Court in Eugene, OR, decided in favor of 21 young Plaintiffs and Dr. James Hansen on behalf of future generations, rejecting the government and fossil fuel industry's Motions to Dismiss the youth's landmark constitutional climate change case.
As part of this historic decision, Judge Coffin characterized the case as an “unprecedented lawsuit” addressing “government action and inaction” resulting “in carbon pollution of the atmosphere, climate destabilization, and ocean acidification.” In ruling that the case should proceed, Judge Coffin wrote: “The debate about climate change and its impact has been before various political bodies for some time now. Plaintiffs give this debate justiciability by asserting harms that befall or will befall them personally and to a greater extent than older segments of society. It may be that eventually the alleged harms, assuming the correctness of plaintiffs' analysis of the impacts of global climate change, will befall all of us. But the intractability of the debates before Congress and state legislatures and the alleged valuing of short term economic interest despite the cost to human life, necessitates a need for the courts to evaluate the constitutional parameters of the action or inaction taken by the government. This is especially true when such harms have an alleged disparate impact on a discrete class of society.”
March 9, 2016
Hearing in youth's landmark federal climate lawsuit generates immense interest
Hundreds of students, activists, professors, and citizens concerned about climate turned out for a historic hearing in Eugene, Oregon to support 21 young plaintiffs, ages 8-19, in what Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein call the “most important lawsuit on the planet right now.”
The purpose of Wednesday’s hearing was to hear arguments from the parties on the federal government’s and fossil fuel industry's motions to dismiss the youth’s climate change lawsuit. The judge conducted incisive questioning of lawyers presenting oral argument for both sides on the issue.
“Defendants are wrong that our complaint fails to allege constitutional and public trust violations for the harms caused these young plaintiffs,” said Julia Olson, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and Executive Director of Our Children’s Trust, in her closing argument. “Defendants in essence ask this court to ignore the undisputed scientific evidence, presented in our complaint and in opposing this motion, that the federal government has, and continues to, damage plaintiffs’ personal security and other fundamental rights. But these young plaintiffs have the right to prove the government’s role in harming them has been knowing and deliberate.”
See “U.S. Government’s Long-Standing Knowledge of Climate Danger,” one of the exhibits presented by Olson during the hearing.
February 2, 2016
Youth plaintiffs file their opposition brief to the fossil fuel intervenors' motion to dismiss their case.
January 15, 2016
Prominent Catholic Groups File Amicus Brief In Support of Youth’s Landmark Constitutional Climate Lawsuit
The Center for Earth Jurisprudence, on behalf of the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) and the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR) filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the constitutional climate change lawsuit brought by 21 young plaintiffs from across America. The Catholic groups filed their brief promptly after Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the federal District Court in Oregon granted defendant status to three trade associations, representing nearly all of the world’s fossil fuel companies. The Catholic groups filed the brief to make their views known that the youth’s legal claims are rooted in U.S. traditions and parallel Roman Catholic tenets.
The GCCM is an international network of more than 250 Catholic organizations and individuals, including Pope Francis and Catholic bishops. The Catholic group is raising a strong voice in global climate change discussions, relying on the Pope’s recent encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. The LCWR represents leaders of more than 40,000 women religious across the United States and the world.
“As an organization inspired by the principles of Laudato Si’, the Global Catholic Climate Movement welcomes the opportunity to support the young plaintiffs,” said Tomas Insua, Global Coordinator with the GCCM. “Laudato Si’ reminds us that ‘Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.’ By supporting this initiative, we join our voices with the young plaintiffs who are calling for climate justice and the protection of the atmosphere for generations to come.”
January 14, 2016
Fossil Fuel Industry Becomes Named Defendant in Youths’ Constitutional Climate Lawsuit
U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the federal District Court in Oregon granted defendant status to three trade associations, representing nearly all of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies. The three associations had moved to intervene in the constitutional climate change lawsuit brought by 21 young people from around the country. The newly named trade association defendants are the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (“AFPM”) (representing Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries, and virtually all other U.S. refiners and petrochemical manufacturers), the American Petroleum Institute (“API”) (representing 625 oil and natural gas companies), and the National Association of Manufacturers (“NAM”).
January 6, 2016
Youth Plaintiffs and Dr. Hansen on behalf of Future Generations, filed a strong response in opposition to the Federal Government’s motion to dismiss the case
In their brief, they argue that the plaintiffs have standing to bring their case (they are being harmed by the Defendants’ acts and the court can redress it) and that they have brought valid claims under the U.S. Constitution and the federal Public Trust Doctrine. In a declaration submitted by John Davidson, and Oregon-based constitutional law scholar, the historical and traditional bases for Plaintiffs' claims are explained. Plaintiffs are also supported by the expert testimony of Dr. Michael MacCracken, who the Supreme Court relied upon in Massachusetts v. EPA, and of course, by plaintiff Dr. Jim Hansen. Dr. Hansen’s testimony directly links sea level rise projections to the homes and properties of the Plaintiffs, some of whom would find their family’s property underwater, if the Federal Defendants continue on their course and the climate system is not stabilized. The hearing date is currently set for February 17, 2:00 p.m. in the federal courthouse in Eugene, Oregon.
November 12, 2015
World’s Largest Petroleum Companies Call Youth’s Landmark Climate Lawsuit “a Direct Threat to [Their] Businesses” and Move to Intervene, Aligning Fossil Fuel Industry with President Obama and the U.S. Government Against Youth Plaintiffs
Youth's landmark climate lawsuit against the Federal Government just got the attention of the powerful Fossil Fuel Industry. Today, nearly every oil and gas company in the world asked for permission to oppose the landmark climate lawsuit brought against President Obama and the federal government by America’s youth and Dr. James E. Hansen -- as guardian for future generations. In an unusual step, the immense fossil fuel industry trade groups all filed pleadings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon seeking to join the lawsuit side by side with President Obama to protect their companies’ interests.
The proposed interveners constitute a veritable who’s who of major corporate polluters, including the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (representing members Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Koch Industries, and virtually all other U.S. refiners and petrochemical manufacturers), the American Petroleum Institute (representing 625 oil and natural gas companies), and the National Association of Manufacturers.
“Big Oil is starting to lose control of our political system.” declared Alex Loznak, a youth plaintiff in the case from Oregon. “Last week, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, and New York State began to investigate Exxon's cover-up of climate science. The intervention of fossil fuel companies in our lawsuit against the Federal Government makes it clear that the industry is scared. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." The fight has begun, and we will win.”
“Seeing giant fossil fuel corporations inject themselves into this case, which is about our future, really demonstrates the problem we are trying to fix,” stated Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez of Earth Guardians, a youth plaintiff in the case from Colorado. “The Federal government has been making decisions in the best interest of multinational corporations and their profits, but not in the best interest of my generation and those to come. Instead of changing their business model to meet the scientific reality of climate change, these companies are demanding we adapt to an uninhabitable world that supports their profits. When you compare the two, I think it’s clear that our right to clean air and a healthy atmosphere, is more important than their “need” to make money off destroying our future.”
August 12, 2015, International Youth Day
America’s Youth File Landmark Climate Lawsuit Against U.S. Government and President
In describing the case, one of the teenage Plaintiffs and Youth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez, stated: “The Federal Government has known for decades that CO2 pollution from burning fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change. It also knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would destabilize our climate system, significantly harming my generation and generations to come. Despite knowing these dangers, Defendants did nothing to prevent this harm. In fact, my Government increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to levels it knew were unsafe.”
Another Plaintiff, 18-year-old Kelsey Juliana, said: “Our nation's top climate scientists, including Dr. Hansen, have found that the present CO2 level is already in the danger zone and leading to devastating disruptions of planetary systems. The current practices and policies of our Federal Government include sustained exploitation and consumption of fossil fuels. We brought this case because the Government needs to immediately and aggressively reduce carbon emissions, and stop promoting fossil fuels, which force our nation's climate system toward irreversible impacts. If the Government continues to delay urgent annual emissions reductions, my generation's wellbeing will be inexcusably put at risk.”
Read Dr. James Hansen's and other leading scientists' articles that were attached to Dr. Hansen's expert declaration:
- Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature (2013).
- Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2 ◦C global warming is highly dangerous (2015).