Categories
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Right to a healthy environment Right to life Right to property Separation of powers United States of America

Reynolds and Others v. Florida

Summary:
In this case, eight young people asserted that the “deliberate indifference” of the US state of Florida, its Governor Ron DeSantis, and other state agencies had violated their “fundamental rights of life, liberty and property, and the pursuit of happiness, which includes a stable climate system”. On 9 June 2020, the Circuit Court for Leon County dismissed their case, finding that it could not grant the relief requested in light of the separation of powers clause contained in the state’s constitution. The claims in question were considered nonjusticiable because they “are inherently political questions that must be resolved by the political branches of government.”. On appeal, on 18 May 2021, the First District Court of Appeal rejected the applicants’ appeal, affirming the lower court’s finding that the lawsuit raised nonjusticiable political questions.

Further information:
Both the Circuit Court’s judgment and the Court of Appeals’ affirmation of the first-instance judgment can be found at www.climatecasechart.com.

Categories
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Fossil fuel extraction Imminent risk Indigenous peoples' rights Non-discrimination Right to life Right to property Sea-level rise United States of America

Aji P. and Others v. the State of Washington

Summary:
This case was brought by 13 young people aged between 8 and 18 who sued the US State of Washington, its Governor, and various other state agencies, arguing that the state had “injured and continue[d] to injure them by creating, operating, and maintaining a fossil fuel-based energy and transportation system that [the State] knew would result in greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, dangerous climate change, and resulting widespread harm.” In doing so, they invoked their “fundamental and inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, equal protection, and a healthful and pleasant environment, which includes a stable climate system that sustains human life and liberty.” They also invoked the impacts on indigenous peoples’ rights. The plaintiffs requested the judiciary to “[o]rder [the state] to develop and submit to the Court . . . an enforceable state climate recovery plan”.

A number of amici filed briefs in the case. For example, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Quinault Indian Nation, and Suquamish Tribe argued that local tribes were already seeing impacts on their traditional lands and abutting marine waters. The Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW-US) noted the well-documented impacts of climate change on human and constitutional rights. The League of Women Voters of Washington argued that access to judicial action was particularly important for minors who did not enjoy access to the right to vote. And a group of environmental NGOs submitted that “the right to a healthful and pleasant environment underlies our continued ability to claim our explicitly-guaranteed rights to life and liberty.”

On 8 February 2021, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington held that it “firmly believe[d] that the right to a stable environment should be
fundamental.” It also recognized “the extreme harm that greenhouse gas emissions inflict on the environment and its future stability.” However, it held that “it would be a violation of the separation of powers doctrine for the court to resolve the Youths’ claims.” It accordingly dismissed the claim.

On 6 October 2021, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington denied the petition for review in this case. González, C.J. (dissenting) noted that the plaintiffs “asked this court to recognize a fundamental right to a healthful and pleasant environment that may be inconsistent with our State’s maintenance of a fossil-fuel-based energy and transportation system that it knows will result in greenhouse gas emissions. These greenhouse gases hasten a rise in the earth’s temperature. This temperature change
foreshadows the potential collapse of our environment. In its place is an unstable climate system, conceivably unable to sustain human life and continued enjoyment of ordered liberty under law. Today, we have an opportunity to consider whether these are the sorts of harms that are remediable under Washington’s law and constitution. We should have granted review to decide that question”.

Categories
2021 Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Human dignity Right to a healthy environment Right to health United States of America

Held and Others v. Montana

Summary:
In Held and Others, sixteen young plaintiffs — aged between two and eighteen — brought a case against the U.S. state of Montana alleging violations of the state constitution due to climate change. The young plaintiffs in this case, which is to some extent comparable to the Juliana litigation, alleged that they are already experiencing ‘a host of adverse consequences’ from anthropogenic climate change in Montana, including increased temperatures, changing weather patterns, more acute droughts and extreme weather events, increasing wildfires and glacial melt. They argued that this was causing health risks, especially for children, and that the defendants, among them the state of Montana, its Governor, and various state agencies, had “act[ed] affirmatively to exacerbate the climate crisis” despite their awareness of the risk of harm to the applicants. The plaintiffs sought a declaration that their right to a clean and healthy environment includes a right a stable climate, and that existing approaches to greenhouse gas emissions in Montana violate constitutional provisions, including the right to a clean and healthy environment; the right to seek safety, health, and happiness; and the right to individual dignity and to equal protection. They also sought injunctive relief, namely an order to account for the state’s Montana’s greenhouse gas emissions and to develop and implement an emissions reductions plan.

Decision on the admissibility:
On 4 August 2021, a the Montana First Judicial District Court for Lewis and Clark County declared the case admissible in part. The prayer for injunctive relief in terms of emissions accounting, a remedial plan or policy, the appointment of expert to assist the court, and retain jurisdiction until such orders are complied with were rejected. However, the court declared the constitutional rights claims admissible, including the claim about the plaintiffs’ ‘fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment’, which — as the plaintiffs submit — ‘includes a stable climate system that sustains human lives and liberties’.

Date filed:
13 March 2020

Date of admissibility decision:
4 August 2021

More information:
The original complaint is available from the Western Environmental Law Center.
The admissibility decision is available over on climatecasechart.com.

Suggested citation:
Montana First District Court for Lewis and Clark county, Held and others v. State of Montana and others, order on motion to dismiss, 4 August 2021, Cause No. CDV-2020-307.

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).

Categories
2006 Biodiversity Emissions reductions Extraterritorial obligations Freedom of movement Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Private and family life Right to culture Right to health Right to property Right to subsistence/food United States of America

Sheila Watt-Cloutier et al. v. the United States of America

Summary:
Filed in 2005 by members of the Inuit people living in Canada, this application concerned the climate change-related responsibility of the United States of America. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights refused to examine the case on the grounds that the information provided was insufficient.

More information on the petition:
In this petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuk woman and Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference living in Canada, sought relief from human rights violations related to climate change caused by the acts and omissions of the United States. Ms. Watt-Cloutier, on behalf of herself, 62 other individuals, and all of the Inuit of the arctic regions of the United States of America and Canada, sought relief against the effects of climate change, which — it was argued — have the potential to affect every aspect of the life of the Inuit people, including the quality of the permafrost, land and water, biodiversity and food sources, and cultural rights. The petitioners relied on the United States’ obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other instruments that shape these obligations under the Declaration, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This case was extraterritorially framed: it was brought by Inuit people living in Canada, but against the United States of America for its climate change-related human rights impacts. The petitioners argued that the acts and omissions by the United States had violated the Inuit’s rights to the benefits of culture, to property, to the preservation of health, life, physical integrity, security, and a means of subsistence, and to residence, movement, and inviolability of the home under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and other international instruments.

Outcome:
On 16 November 2006, the Commission refused to consider the petition because it considered that it had provided insufficient information. Specifically, it found that the petition did not “enable us [the Commission] to determine whether the alleged facts would tend to characterize a violation of rights protected by the American Declaration”.

The Commission held a hearing in 2007 concerning the case, however it did not revisit its decision not to examine the complaints made.

Forum:
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights

Date filed:
7 December 2005

Suggested citation:
IACHR, Sheila Watt-Cloutier et al. v. USA, petition rejected on 7 December 2005

Full text of the petition:
The text of the petition is available at climatecasechart.com. Click here to access it.

The video of the 2007 hearing is available here.

Further information:
For more on this petition, see:

Agnieszka Szpak, ‘Arctic Athabaskan Council’s petition to the Inter-American Commission on human rights and climate change—business as usual or a breakthrough?’ 162 Climatic Change (2020) 1575–1593.