The U.S. Supreme Court today denied the petition for mandamus filed by plaintiffs in one of the major — and preposterous — suits claiming damages against industry for causing global warming, Comer v. Murphy Oil. (Today’s order list is here.) This should be the end of the case because the plaintiffs did not file a petition for certiorari, but given how convoluted the lawsuit’s path through the courts has been, perhaps there’s a strange maneuver that could revive it.
As we have summarized at Shopfloor.org, a District Court Judge in Mississippi held that Mississippi residents could NOT sue power companies and refineries for damages that resulted from global warming, but a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled otherwise on appeal.
That decision was appealed to the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for en banc consideration, but after accepting the case, another judge recused herself because of a conflict of interest, eliminating the court’s quorum to hear the appeal. However, the appellate court had already vacated the lower court’s decision in anticipation of hearing it, so the lawsuit basically died. The petition for mandamus was an effort to keep the litigation going.
The National Association of Manufacturers’ Manufacturing Law Center summarized the case here. In amicus briefs, we argued:
The plaintiffs, Mississippi residents and property owners, alleged that the emissions from more than 150 energy and manufacturing companies increased global warming and contributed to the severity of damages resulting from Hurricane Katrina. Our brief in support of the appeal argued that the plaintiffs’ theory of liability would dramatically expand tort law beyond anything ever recognized because of the tenuous link between the alleged conduct and the alleged harm. In addition, this case involves a complex regulatory matter requiring the balancing of economic, environmental and international interests, and is constitutionally the domain of the political branches of government, not the courts.
The U.S. Supreme Court will still have an opportunity to rule on the legitimacy of public nuisance claims against power companies for the alleged harm caused by supposed global warming. In December, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, the federal common law nuisance case brought by several northeastern states against power utilities for global warming. The NAM’s case summary is here.
[Update: I quickly corrected the original version that got the U.S. District Court judge's ruling wrong. District Court Judge Louis Guirola, Jr., of the Southern District of Mississippi dismissed the lawsuit in August 2007, ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing and the tort claims were non-justiciable ones to be resolved by the political system. ]