Legal Analysis of the Kivalina v. Exxon Case

From Marten Law Group:

Threatened by Rising Seas, Native Village Seeks Lifeline in Federal District Court

By Dustin Till

Several lawsuits have been filed in federal district court asserting that large emitters of greenhouse gases are responsible for rising sea levels and other harms attributable to global warming. In one of the latest attempts to hold greenhouse gas producers responsible for alleged climate change impacts, a coastal Native village in Alaska recently filed a federal lawsuit alleging that twenty oil, coal, and electric utility companies are responsible for thinning sea ice and increased storm surges that are forcing the village to relocate.[1] In Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., et al., the village of Kivalina alleges that the defendants’ greenhouse gas emissions constitute a nuisance under both federal and state law, and seeks to recover monetary damages up to $400 million for the costs of relocating the entire village. Kivalina also alleges that certain defendants conspired to create a misinformation campaign designed “to deceive the public about the science of global warming,” and that the defendants’ civil conspiracy contributed to the town’s injuries. [2]

Previous nuisance lawsuits seeking relief for climate change impacts under federal common law have, so far, been unsuccessful. At least three federal district courts, including the same California federal court where the Kivalina case is pending, have dismissed similar lawsuits on grounds that they presented political questions over which the courts had no jurisdiction.[3] As a result, federal courts have yet to address the merits of climate change nuisance claims – including the potentially vexing issue of causation. The defendants will undoubtedly raise similar jurisdictional challenges, and if prior litigation is any guide, the Kivalina plaintiffs face an uphill battle to recover the costs of relocating their sinking village.

One thought on “Legal Analysis of the Kivalina v. Exxon Case

  1. Mark Dowie May 22, 2009 / 7:35 pm

    Unusual and unprecidented litigation almost always fails for a while, but eventually plaintiff lawyers gets their wording, arguments and strategy right and justice prevails.

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