Categories
2021 Business responsibility Domestic court Extraterritorial obligations Standing/admissibility The United Kingdom

Okpabi and Others v. Royal Dutch Shell and Others

Summary:
In October and December 2015, the Ogale and Bille Nigerian communities filed parallel complaints against the UK company Royal Dutch Shell plc (Shell) and its Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in the UK High Court. The claimants sought a remedy for the extensive oil pollution caused by Shell arguing that it had affected their livelihoods and the environment. They claimed that Shell had failed to prevent oil spills and did not conduct proper clean-up. The plaintiffs argued that Shell had not seriously prevented contamination of agricultural land and waterways. They argued that Shell, as the parent company, owed them duty of care because it exercised significant control over the material aspects of SPDC’s operations and was responsible for them.

In January 2017, the High Court held that the claimants could not sue Shell in English Courts. The Court held that there was not sufficient evidence that Shell exercised a high degree of oversight, control or direction over SPDC. It therefore had no legal responsibility as a parent company for pollution by its Nigerian subsidiary. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision in February 2018. The Court held that the parent company did not hold a duty of care towards the affected communities. In May 2020 the plaintiffs filed an appeal with the UK Supreme Court, arguing that the parent company Shell owed them a common law duty of care in respect to the extensive environmental harmed caused by their business operations in Nigeria. On 12 February 2021, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal and ruled that the case could proceed in the UK Courts. The decision determined that there is an arguable case that Shell is legally responsible for the pollution caused by the activities of its subsidiary to the Ogale and Bille communities.

Date of decision:
12 February 2021

Admissibility:
The UK Supreme Court ruled that UK courts have jurisdiction over the case, due to the fact that the parent company may owe the plaintiffs a duty of care and therefore the action against Shell constitutes a triable issue.

Merits:
TBD

Remedies:
TDB

Suggested citation:
UK Supreme Court, Okpabi and Others v. Royal Dutch Shell and Others, UKSC 2018/0068, Judgment of 12 February 2021, [2021] UKSC 3.

See also:
The similar (on the facts) case of Milieudefensie and Others v. Royal Dutch Shell PLC (before the Dutch courts).

For the full judgment, click here.

To watch a webcast of the hearing, click here.

Categories
2020 Business responsibility Domestic court Emissions reductions France Standing/admissibility

Les Amis de la Terre, Survie v. Total SA

Summary:

Total S.A. is a French energy company with oil projects in Uganda and Tanzania. According to the French “loi de vigilance”, companies with a certain size that meet certain criteria must develop a “plan de vigilance” documenting how they and the companies in their supply chain respect human rights and the environment in their business activities. The applicants claim that Total’s environmental plan (part of the “plan de vigilance”) is not suitable for achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. In addition to better respect for human rights, the NGOs have demanded that Total take more effective measures to protect the environment. The first instance court, the Nanterre Civil Court of Justice, found that it had no jurisdiction over the case and that it fell instead within the jurisdiction of the commercial courts. The applicant NGOs appealed. The Court of Appeal of Versailles confirmed the judgment of the first instance, and the NGOs are now considering filing an appeal before the French Supreme Court.

Admissibility:
The Court confirmed the judgment of the first instance court, which had decided that the dispute fell within the jurisdiction of the commercial court. 

Date of filing:
16 March 2020

Date of decision:
10 December 2020

Suggested citation:
Court of Appeal of Versailles, Les Amis de la Terre, Survie v. Total SA, case no. RG20/01692, decision of 10 December 2020.

Full judgment:
The full judgment is available here.

Categories
2020 Canada Domestic court Emissions reductions Fossil fuel extraction Non-discrimination Right to life Standing/admissibility

Cecilia La Rose v Her Majesty the Queen

Facts of the case:

Plaintiffs comprising of 15 children and youths from various parts of Canada sued the Government and Attorney General of Canada alleging violations of the right to life and right to equality under Sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the constitutional and common law duty to protect the integrity of common natural resources in public trust. According to the plaintiffs, the impugned conduct of the respondents consisted in: continuing to cause, contribute to and allow a level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions incompatible with a Stable Climate System (defined as a climate capable of sustaining human life and liberties); adopting GHG emission targets that are inconsistent with the best available science about what is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change and restore a Stable Climate System; failing to meet the Defendants’ own GHG emission targets; and actively participating in and supporting the development, expansion and operation of industries and activities involving fossil fuels that emit a level of GHGs incompatible with a Stable Climate System.

The defendants, while accepting the plaintiffs’ concerns about the seriousness of climate change and its potential impacts, filed a motion to strike their claim alleging that their claim is not justiciable.

Date of decision:

27 October 2020

Admissibility:

On 27 October 2020 the Federal Court in Ottawa granted the defendants’ motion. The Court answered the question of justiciability of the claims of Charter violations for the reason that the impugned conduct is of undue breadth and diffuse nature, and that the remedies sought by the plaintiffs were inappropriate. The Court also found that it had no constitutional obligation to intervene on the matter as there is room for disagreement between reasonable people on how climate change should be addressed. On the issue of justiciability of the public trust doctrine invoked by the plaintiffs, the Court found that the question of existence of the doctrine is a legal question which courts can resolve. However, the Court found that the plaintiffs’ claim did not disclose a reasonable prospect of success for the purposes of its admissibility.

Merits:

NA

Status of the case:

The plaintiffs have appealed against the Federal Court’s order before the Federal Court of Appeal.

Suggested case citation:

Federal Court of Ottawa, Cecilia La Rose v Her Majesty the Queen, T-1750-19, judgment of 27 October 2020, 2020 FC 1008

Case documents:

For the complaint filed by the plaintiffs on 25 October 2019, click here.

For the Government’s statement of defence notified on 7 February 2020, click here.

For the plaintiff’s reply to the Government’s motion to strike, filed on 31 August 2020, click here.

For the Federal Court of Ottawa’s order dated 27 October 2020, click here.

For the Memorandum of Appeal filed by the plaintiffs on 5 March 2021, click here.

Further reading:

Camille Cameron, Riley Weyman, ‘Recent Youth-Led and Rights-Based Climate Change Litigation in Canada: Reconciling Justiciability, Charter Claims and Procedural Choices,’ 34(1) Journal of Environmental Law (2021), Pages 195–207. Available here.

Categories
2020 Austria Domestic court Emissions reductions European Convention on Human Rights Keywords Paris Agreement Private and family life Right to life Rights at stake Standing/admissibility State concerned Year

Greenpeace et al. v. Austria (The Zoubek Case)

Summary:
On 20 February 2020, Greenpeace Austria and other applicants called on the Austrian Constitutional Court to invalidate the preferential tax treatment of aviation companies over rail transportation companies in two Austrian tax laws. They claim that this preferential treatment would lead to an unjustified favoring of passenger air traffic and a disadvantage for less climate-damaging means of transport (e.g. railroads). Furthermore, the value-added tax exemption for cross-border flights and the kerosene exemption for domestic flights lead to higher prices for rail than for air travel and thus, contribute to climate change. Against this background, the applicants alleged that their rights under Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) were violated, since the Austrian State has not fulfilled its duty to protect its citizens from the consequences of climate change.

On 30 September 2020, the Constitutional Court dismissed the application as inadmissible because it considered that the plaintiffs were not covered by the challenged legislation, which does not apply to rail transport, but only to air transport.

One of the applicants, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and Uhthoff’s syndrome, took this case to the European Court of Human Rights. He alleges a violation of his rights under, among others, Article 8 ECHR. The case, known as Mex M. v. Austria, it was filed on 25 March 2021 and has not yet been communicated.

Date of decision:
30 September 2020

Status of case:
Dismissed

Suggested citation:
Austrian Verfassungsgerichtshof, Greenpeace et al. v. Austria, Decision of 30 September 2020 – G 144-145/2020-13, V 332/2020-13.

Links:
For the decision of the Constitutional Court, see here.

For the application, see here.

Categories
2020 Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Indigenous peoples' rights Standing/admissibility United States of America

Juliana et al. v. USA et al.

Summary:
On 12 August 2015, the case of Juliana v. the United States was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. The 21 young plaintiffs in this case, who were represented by the NGO “Our Children’s Trust”, asserted that the government had violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property through its climate change-causing actions. Moreover, they stated that the government had failed to protect essential public trust resources by encouraging and permitting the combustion of fossil fuels. The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff’s requested remedies should be addressed by the executive and legislative branches rather than by the courts. At present, the youth plaintiffs are planning to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court or to settle discussions with the Biden-Harris administration.

Court’s decision:
U.S. District Court of Oregon Judge Ann Aiken declined to dismiss the lawsuit. She ruled that access to a clean environment constitutes a fundamental right. Judge Aiken’s judgment was reversed by a Ninth Circuit Panel due to the plaintiffs’ lack of standing to sue. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the gravity of the evidence on the plaintiffs’s injuries from climate change. The panel of judges recognized the existence of harms to the applicants, and the plausibility of arguing that these harms had been caused by climate change. Nevertheless, the Court held that the plaintiffs’ requested remedies should be addressed by the executive and legislative branches and not by the courts. One of the three judges affirmed the plaintiff’s constitutional climate rights in a dissent.

Date of decision:
17 January 2020

Further reading:
The full text of the Ninth Circuit’s order on interlocutory appeal is available here.

Suggested citation:
Juliana and Others v. the United States and Others, 947 F.3d 1159 (9th Cir. 2020).