Is a Mass Filing the Right Strategy to Get Carbon Dioxide Regulation Going?

by McCarter & English: Climate Change & Renewable Energy
Contact

[author: J. Wylie Donald]

After a string of defeats at the regulatory agencies and state and federal courts, Our Children's Trust finally notched two victories last month in its quest to use the public trust doctrine to implement carbon dioxide emission regulations.  Our Children's Trust, an environmental organization based in Oregon,  began its campaign in May 2011 when it oversaw the filing of nearly two score regulatory petitions and a dozen lawsuits seeking to force individual states to take action to restrict carbon dioxide emissions.   OCT's trademark feature is to include as plaintiffs "youth activists".  Up to the beginning of July it had not had any success.  But then, maybe, the tide began to turn. 

First, on July 9 Texas District Court Judge Gisela Triana partially overrode the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's decision rejecting a petition for rulemaking on the public trust doctrine.  Petitioners appealed the decision in Bonser-Lain v. TCEQ.  Petitioners had sought, relying on the public trust doctrine, to force the TCEQ to act to preserve the atmosphere by regulating carbon dioxide.  The TCEQ had concluded that in Texas the public trust doctrine applies solely to water.  Furthermore, according to the Commission, it was precluded from acting by the federal Clean Air Act, which preempted more restrictive state action. 

Judge Triana made short shrift of both arguments.  Relying on Article XVI of the Texas Constitution she ruled:  "The Court will find that the Commission’s conclusion, that the public trust doctrine is exclusively limited to the conservation of water, is legally invalid. The doctrine includes all natural resources of the State.”  As to the preemption idea, the federal Clean Air Act "is a floor, not a ceiling, for the protection of air quality, and therefore the Commission's ruling on this point is not supported by law."  The court did find, however, that because of other pending litigation, the TCEQ did properly exercise its discretion in refusing to entertain the petition. 

Second, on July 14, New Mexico District Court Judge Sarah Singleton refused to dismiss  a case asserting the State of New Mexico had an obligation to protect the atmosphere under the public trust doctrine.  The 18-line decision would hardly merit discussion except that this was the first decision allowing one of these cases to move forward.  Like the petitioners in Texas, the plaintiffs in New Mexico sought  to establish the public trust doctrine as a vehicle to control carbon dioxide emissions.  In a nutshell, Judge Singleton ruled that the suit, Sanders-Reed v. Martinez, could go forward insofar as it alleged that the State of New Mexico was not in compliance with laws passed by the New Mexico Legislature.  Specifically, the "Motion [to Dimiss] is DENIED to the extent that Plaintiffs have made a substantive allegation that, notwithstanding statutes enacted by the New Mexico Legislature which enable the state to set state air quality standards, the process has gone astray and the state is ignoring the atmosphere with respect to greenhouse gas emissions."  The motion was successful, however, where the court dismissed claims "based on the New Mexico Legislature's failure to act with respect to the atmosphere." 

These cases may or may not be important in the climate change arena.  To be sure, they upset an unbroken stream of victories for state regulators over OCT plaintiffs and will undoubtedly serve as a rallying point for the remaining cases as well as to-be-filed cases.  But the comments in  Bonser-Lain are only dicta and that Sanders-Reed survived a motion to dismiss says nothing about the merits.  But the mass-filing strategy by Our Children's Trust bears watching because it is not unique and may surface elsewhere.  Indeed it has.

Following the filing of a class action against Thomas Jefferson Law School in California over alleged misrepresentations in law school placement data, a team of lawyers coordinated by two attorneys in New York, David Anziska and Jesse Strauss, put together a mass-filing strategy similar in some respects to that followed by OCT.  Twelve apparently is the magic number.  The law school placement team brought suit against a dozen law schools in jurisdictions across the nation.  Although another twenty suits are theoretically teed up as information from prospective plaintiffs is collected, those suits were promised for Memorial Day but have not yet materialized. 

A big filing day is mandatory to maximize press coverage.   As were the atmospheric trust cases, the law school placement cases were nearly all filed on the same day.  Both litigation teams have sought public exposure throughout the course of the litigation.

A defendant's typical response in both sets of cases is a motion to dismiss.  Some throw in everything and the kitchen sink, others are more thoughtful.  There is a danger to the kitchen sink approach; the court may issue a ruling giving the plaintiffs a set of victories as happened with Thomas Cooley Law School in Michigan (see attached) (even though Cooley ultimately prevailed at the trial court).

But this is where the mass filing paradigm falls down.  Both sets of litigation are based on state law.  In the law school placement cases, two California cases have survived demurrers because California consumer protection law includes educational services (see attached), and two have been dismissed because, among other things, Michigan consumer protection law does not reach professional schools and New York law finds law students to be sophisticated consumers.  In the atmospheric public trust cases, notwithstanding case after case rejecting the claims, courts in New Mexico and Texas find under their states' laws that the theory is well-founded. 

The lesson one should take from this is that, like politics, all law is local.  Well-timed press releases and news conferences touting the ineluctable triumph of the plaintiffs, at the end of the day count for very little.  Rather, what matters is the particular law of the particular jurisdiction on the particular facts of the case.  Both plaintiffs and defendants should take note.

20120726 Filing in Florida Coastal of USF and Golden Gate decisions.pdf (366.85 kb)

20120607 Initial Thomas Cooley Law School Order re Motion to Dismissf.pdf (67.07 kb)

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© McCarter & English: Climate Change & Renewable Energy | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

McCarter & English: Climate Change & Renewable Energy
Contact
more
less

McCarter & English: Climate Change & Renewable Energy on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.
Feedback? Tell us what you think of the new jdsupra.com!