This afternoon, Judge Aiken on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon revived Juliana v. United States, aka the “Kids Climate Case,” by granting the plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaint, some two years after the motion was filed.
This is a remarkable order because the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit previously ordered the case dismissed due to a lack of standing. The original Ninth Circuit panel ruling was in January 2020, and the court denied en banc rehearing in February 2021. The plaintiffs filed a motion to amend in March 2021, which was opposed by the Department of Justice on the grounds that “the mandate rule requires [the district] court to dismiss the case.” Despite the DOJ’s opposition, the district court further ordered a settlement conference, and whatever jurisdiction the district court may have retained over the case should have expired when the plaintiffs failed to petition for certiorari.
Judge Aiken clearly sees things differently. Her order begins:
In this civil rights action, plaintiffs—a group of young people between the ages of eight and nineteen when this lawsuit was filed and “future generations” through their guardian Dr. James Hansen—allege injury from the devastation of climate change and contend that the Constitution guarantees the right to a stable climate system capable of sustaining human life. Plaintiffs maintain that federal defendants have continued to permit, authorize, and subsidize fossil fuel extraction and consumption, despite knowledge that those actions cause catastrophic global warming. This case returns to this Court on remand from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where plaintiffs demonstrated their “injury in fact” was “fairly traceable” to federal defendants’ actions—two of three requirements necessary to establish standing under Article III. However, the Ninth Circuit reversed with instructions to dismiss plaintiffs’ case, holding that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate “redressability”—the third, final requirement to establish Article III standing. The Ninth Circuit determined that plaintiffs did not “surmount the remaining hurdle” to prove that the relief they seek is within the power of an Article III court to provide. Juliana v. United States, 947 F.3d 1159, 1171 (9th Cir. 2020). After that court’s decision, plaintiffs moved to amend, notifying this Court of an intervening change in controlling law, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, ___U.S.___, 141 S. Ct. 792 (2021), asserting abrogation of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on redressability. Now, plaintiffs contend that permitting amendment will allow plaintiffs to clear the hurdle the Ninth Circuit identified, so that the case may proceed to a decision on the merits. For the reasons explained, this Court grants plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. (Doc. 462).
As for how the proposed amendments address the standing problems identified by the Ninth Circuit, Judge Aiken wrote:
Plaintiffs assert that their proposed amendments cure the defects the Ninth Circuit identified and that they should be given opportunity to amend. Plaintiffs explain that the amended allegations demonstrate that relief under the Declaratory Judgment Act alone would be substantially likely to provide partial redress of asserted and ongoing concrete injuries, and that partial redress is sufficient, even if further relief is later found unavailable. . . .
Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint thus requests this Court to: (1) declare that the United States’ national energy system violates and continues to violate the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to substantive due process and equal protection of the law; (2) enter a judgment declaring the United States’ national energy system has violated and continues to violate the public trust doctrine; and (3) enter a judgment declaring that § 201 of the Energy Policy Act has violated and continues to violate the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to substantive due process and equal protection of the law. . . .
Here, plaintiffs seek declaratory relief that “the United States’ national energy system that creates the harmful conditions described herein has violated and continues to violate the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to substantive due process and equal protection of the law.” (Doc. 514-1 ¶ 1). This relief is squarely within the constitutional and statutory power of Article III courts to grant. Such relief would at least partially, and perhaps wholly, redress plaintiffs’ ongoing injuries caused by federal defendants’ ongoing policies and practices. Last, but not least, the declaration that plaintiffs seek would by itself guide the independent actions of the other branches of our government and cures the standing deficiencies identified by the Ninth Circuit. This Court finds that the complaint can be saved by amendment. See Corinthian Colleges, 655 F.3d at 995.
The Ninth Circuit’s initial decision dismissing the Juliana case was likely the best outcome the plaintiffs could have hoped for, as it avoided substantive Supreme Court intervention (after the justices had indicated their concern about the case). By reviving the case, Judge Aiken is tempting fate—and risking a broader legal judgment that could preclude a broader array of climate-related suits.
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