Youths’ Climate Lawsuit Dismissed by Washington State Court

Published August 22, 2018

A climate change lawsuit filed against the state of Washington by a group of 13 youth activists was dismissed by a King County Superior Court Judge.

The 13 plaintiffs, represented by Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization purporting to represent youths’ and future generations’ ‘legal right to a secure climate and a healthy atmosphere,’ argue Washington is violating their constitutional rights to a healthy environment by maintaining an energy and transportation system dependent on fossil fuels which, they claim, are causing dangerous climate change.

Judge Michael Scott granted the state’s motion to dismiss Aji P. v. State of Washington on August 14, ruling the issues the plaintiffs raised in the case are political questions which must be addressed at the federal level by the U.S. Congress and the president, not by state courts.

Judicial Trend

In a statement responding to the court’s ruling, Our Children’s Trust said it was “saddened” and “heartbroken” by Scott’s decision to dismiss the case without allowing its clients’ claims to go to trial.

Scott’s dismissal represents his recognition the legislative and executive branches of government, not the courts, are the appropriate places to handle complex matters affecting energy use, says Peter Ferrara, senior fellow for legal affairs with The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“The court in this case now follows a growing trend in the judiciary to rule, consistent with the Constitution’s Separation of Powers, that the courts are not the place to resolve the complex issues surrounding climate change or global warming,” Ferrara said. “Such decisions are most appropriately reserved for the politically accountable government branches, which can best weigh the costs of irreplaceable fossil fuels against the enormous benefits.”

Federal Suit Continues

Despite the loss in state court, a federal lawsuit brought by Our Children’s Trust on behalf of youth plaintiffs is scheduled to be heard in a federal district court in Eugene, Oregon on October 29.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied the U.S. Justice Department’s request for a stay in the climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States.

The Supreme Court called the request for a stay “premature,” dismissing the federal government’s request without prejudice, meaning the government can seek a stay in the future.

While denying the request for a stay, the Court stated the “breadth of [the plaintiffs’] claims is striking” and ordered the District Court to take the federal government’s “concerns into account in assessing the burdens of discovery and trial, as well as the desirability of a prompt ruling on the Government’s pending dispositive motions.”

Ferrara says the Supreme Court’s preliminary decision is unsurprising.

“I am not surprised the Supreme Court allowed this lawsuit to go forward, as it has historically been loath to intervene in lower court cases before they have even gone to trial,” said Ferrara.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.