U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Youth Win 9th Circuit Ruling in Climate Change Case

There is a change in the weather, and it goes beyond climate change.

In a setback to an older generation, young people won a round in their lawsuit against the United States over global warming. They allege the government has knowingly let carbon dioxide destabilize the climate, and denied them the right to live in a habitable environment.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the government's motion to dismiss was premature, and remanded the case to the trial court. For the Trump administration, it's going to get a little hotter in Juliana et al v. United States

Hotter in Court

Julia Olson, who represents the plaintiffs as executive director of Our Children's Trust, said the government will have to answer for creating dangerous changes in the climate.

"It's very exciting," she told Reuters. "It will be the first time that climate science and the federal government's role in creating its dangers will go on trial in a U.S. court."

The Trump administration, which inherited the case from the Obama administration, had filed a petition to stay discovery in the case and to dismiss it. Now the case will return to Judge Ann Aiken, who denied the government's motion.

The judge said dismissal, without addressing the merits, could sanction the government's alleged "knowing decision to poison the air."

"Constitutional Crisis"

As trial approached, the government petitioned the Ninth Circuit and argued the plaintiffs' discovery demands were overly burdensome. The appeals court invited the trial court to respond.

"In short, we do not believe that the government will be irreversibly damaged by proceeding to trial," Aiken responded, joined by Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin. "Indeed, we believe that permitting this case to proceed to trial will produce better results on appeal by distilling the legal and factual questions that can only emerge from a fully developed record."

The administration lawyers argued the litigation would overburden the government and provoke a "constitutional crisis," pitting the executive against the courts. But the Ninth Circuit said that was nothing new.

"Litigation burdens are part of our legal system, and the defendants still have the usual remedies before the district court for non-meritorious litigation," Chief Judge Sidney Thomas wrote. "Claims and remedies often are vastly narrowed as litigation proceeds; we have no reason to assume this case will be any different."

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