U.S. Supreme Court clears the way for Rhode Island’s climate lawsuit to proceed in state court
Court declines to hear oil companies’ request to review 2022 1st Circuit decision remanding case to Rhode Island Superior Court
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha issued the following statement in response today’s decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to deny a petition by fossil fuel companies for a writ of certiori in Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Co.
“Rhode Island was the first state to file a climate damage and deception lawsuit, nearly five years ago. We filed in state court because that is the traditional and proper forum to hold corporations accountable for deceiving and failing to warn consumers about their products’ dangerous impacts.
“Today’s decision marks an important milestone in the proceedings as the Court has again rejected an attempt by major fossil fuel company defendants to move the case to federal court and instead kept the case in state court, where it rightly belongs. After decades of climate change deception by the fossil fuel defendants, and now nearly half a decade of delay tactics in our lawsuit to hold them accountable for it, our residents, workers, businesses and taxpayers are ready for their day in court. Now that the Supreme Court has affirmed the decisions of dozens of federal judges across the country, it is time to prepare for trial.”
In 2018, Rhode Island brought a climate change lawsuit against 21 major fossil fuel companies, the first state in the country to do so.
The State’s lawsuit alleges that the companies: created and/or contributed to a public nuisance in the State; failed to adequately warn of the foreseeable risks posed by their products and the consequences of use; undertook a decades-long campaign of deceit in refuting the scientific knowledge generally accepted at the time; failed in their duty to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm that could result from the ordinary use of their products; caused sea level rise; interfered with the use and enjoyment of public trust resources; and violated the State’s Environmental Rights Act by polluting, impairing, and destroying natural resources of the State.
The suit seeks to hold these companies liable for knowingly concealing the fact that use of their products leads to climate change and its catastrophic consequences to the State and its residents, economy, ecosystem, and infrastructure.
In May 2022, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal court decision that ruled Rhode Island’s case be remanded to state court. Several months later, the First Circuit denied fossil fuel companies' petition for en banc review of the May decision. In December 2022, the fossil fuel companies filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court to which the State responded last February.
The Supreme Court declined to hear the fossil fuel defendants’ petition, and therefore upheld the First Circuit’s decision to place this case back in the Rhode Island state courts.