Our Children’s Trust Climate Lawsuit Dismissed

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to throw out the case

Five years into the case, a divided panel from 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the climate lawsuit from Our Children’s Trust, the Oregon-based group working with kids suing U.S. government.

In a 2-1 vote, the three judge panel threw out the case, known as Juliana v. United States. The court argued in its opinion that the case didn’t have any standing under the Administrative Procedure Act, which says the plaintiffs are only allowed to challenge specific agency decisions. The panel also claimed the group cannot sue government conduct. The ruling reverses an earlier ruling by District Court Judge Ann Aiken that would have let the case go forward.

“The panel reluctantly concluded that the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large,” the opinion says.

But Our Children’s Trust isn’t done fighting yet.

Julia Olson, the chief legal counsel and executive director for Our Children’s Trust says in a press release that they plan to appeal the case, saying that two judges on the panel refused to set the standard for rectifying the constitutional violation of protecting the nation’s children.

“The Juliana case is far from over. The Youth Plaintiffs will be asking the full court of the Ninth Circuit to review this decision and its catastrophic implications for our constitutional democracy,” she says in a press release.

Eugene-based youth plaintiff Kelsey Juliana, the 23-year-old whose name the case bears, says, “I am disappointed that these judges would find that federal courts can’t protect America’s youth, even when a constitutional right has been violated. Such a holding is contrary to American principles of justice that I have been taught since elementary school. This decision gives full unfettered authority to the legislative and executive branches of government to destroy our country, because we are dealing with a crisis that puts the very existence of our nation in peril.”

The constitutional case is based on the public trust doctrine, arguing that if the government is causing harm to the climate system, it needs to be enjoined to stop that harm. The youths filed against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in 2015.

Judges on the panel agreed that climate change was an urgent matter, and that the evidence compiled by Our Children’s Trust was sufficient in proving these climate issues. “The record left little basis for denying that climate change was occurring at an increasingly rapid pace,” the panel wrote.

The document also recognized that the the kids had suffered valid injuries as a result of climate change, which was another one of their arguments in the case. These injuries included psychological harm, claims that they could not enjoy certain recreational activities and other medical conditions.

District Judge Josephine L. Staton dissented strongly, saying the defendants did have sufficient evidence. She writes, “When the seas envelop our coastal cities, fires and droughts haunt our interiors, and storms ravage everything between, those remaining will ask: Why did so many do so little?”