Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp.

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Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation, et al.
US DC NorCal.svg
United States District Court for the Northern District of California
Full case nameNative Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation, et al.
Date decidedSeptember 30, 2009
Docket nos.4:08-cv-01138
CitationsComer v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., et al.
Judge sittingSaundra Brown Armstrong
Case holding
Kivalina claims posed non-justiciable political questions and that the plaintiffs "otherwise lack[ed] standing under Article III of the United States Constitution."

Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., No. 4:08-cv-01138 (N.D. Cal.), is a lawsuit filed on February 26, 2008, in a United States district court. The suit, based on the common law theory of nuisance, claims monetary damages from the energy industry for the destruction of Kivalina, Alaska by flooding caused by climate change. The damage estimates made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Government Accountability Office are placed between $95 million and $400 million. This lawsuit is an example of greenhouse gas emission liability.[1]

The suit was dismissed by the United States district court on September 30, 2009, on the grounds that regulating greenhouse emissions was a political rather than a legal issue and one that needed to be resolved by Congress and the Administration rather than by courts.[2] An appeal was filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2009.[3] In September 2012, the panel of appeals judges decided not to reinstate the case.[4] The city appealed the court of appeals decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and on May 20, 2013 the Supreme Court justices decided not hear the case, effectively ending the city's legal claim.[5]





Village issue[edit]

Kivalina is a traditional Iñupiat Eskimo community of about 390 people and is located about 625 miles northwest of Anchorage. It is built on an 8-mile barrier reef between the Kivalina River and the Chukchi Sea.[6]

Sea ice historically protected the village, whose economy is based in part on salmon fishing plus subsistence hunting of whale, seal, walrus, and caribou. But the ice is forming later and melting sooner because of higher temperatures, and that has left it unprotected from fall and winter storm waves and surges that pummel coastal communities.[6]

The village is being wiped out by global warming and needs to move urgently before it is destroyed and the residents become global warming refugees", Kivalina's attorney, Matt Pawa of suburban Boston said. "It's battered by winter storms and if residents don't get some money to move, the village will cease to exist.[6]

In 1953 the size of the village was roughly 54 acres but due to accelerating erosion activity, the village is currently at 27 acres.[7] Due to the dramatic loss of land, Kivalina residents chosen a relocation site, an area known as Kiniktuuraq, about two miles southeast of the current location.[6] Before relocating Kivalina residents are finding out that the new site may be prone to flooding.[7] It has not been mentioned that the flooding will be attributed to climate change in the case.


According to an attorney of Kivalina, Matt Pawa, Kivalina v. ExxonMobil has two chief aims. The first is to recover "monetary damages for defendants' past and ongoing contributions to global warming"; the second, to recover "damages caused by certain defendants' acts in furthering a conspiracy to suppress the awareness of the link between these emissions and global warming".[8]

The lawsuit accuses some of the defendants of a conspiracy to mislead the public regarding the causes and consequences of climate change. The lawsuit invokes the federal common law of public nuisance. Every entity that contributes to the pollution problem harming Kivalina is liable.[6]

District Court ruling[edit]

On September 30, 2009, the United States District Court dismissed the suit filed by Kivalina. The 2nd Circuit ruled that a public nuisance suit brought by states and environmental groups against ExxonMobil Corporation and twenty-three other oil, energy and utility companies based on their business being major producers of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions posed a non-justiciable political question (In a court system they only have the authority to hear and decide a legal question, not a political question. Legal questions are deemed to be justiciable, while political questions are non-justiciable), and that the plaintiffs did not have standing, because the problem is abstract and is difficult to pinpoint its source.[9]

Shortly after it came down, Judge Sandra Brown Armstrong in the Northern District of California dismissed the nuisance claims, stating that the plaintiffs did pose non-justiciable under the political question doctrine and that the plaintiffs "otherwise lacked standing under Article III of the United States Constitution." On standing, the Kivalina Court applied the "fairly traceable" standard used in the Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc, but in the Kivalina case Kivalina's injuries were not fairly traceable to GHGs emitted by the defendants. Here too the Court relied on what it determined was a tenuous causal link to find that plaintiffs lacked standing.[10]

Defendants of current climate change cases such as Comer v. Murphy Oil USA and Connecticut v. American Electric Power are using this ruling as a way to support their defense of a lack of claim for the plaintiff and therefore there is no standing per Article III of the Constitution.[11]

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals[edit]

An appeal was filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2009.[3] On July 7, 2010, the Washington Legal Foundation filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit urging it to reject an appeal and that the dismissal be affirmed because the lawsuit lacks standing [12] In November 2011 arguments for and against reinstatement of the case were made before an Appeals Panel.[13] On September 21, 2012, the court published an opinion affirming district court decision.[4] [14] On October 4, 2012, the plaintiffs submitted a petition for rehearing by the court en banc.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Heidari Negin, Pearce Joshua M (2016). "A Review of Greenhouse Gas Emission Liabilities as the Value of Renewable Energy for Mitigating Lawsuits for Climate Change Related Damages". Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 55C: 899–908. doi:10.1016/j.rser.2015.11.025.
  2. ^ "Order Granting Motions to Dismiss" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-23. Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  3. ^ a b "Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp. Notice of Appeal" (PDF). 2009-11-05. Retrieved 2010-10-23.
  4. ^ a b Native village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil, 11657, 8 (9th Cir. September 21, 2012) ("we affirm the judgment of the district court").
  5. ^ Hurley, Lawrence. U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear Alaska climate change case, Reuters, May 20, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Kivalina, Alaska: Eroding Village Appeals Lawsuit's Dismissal, Blames Corporations For Climate Change". Huffington Post. 2010-01-28.
  7. ^ a b "Relocation". City of Kivalina, The only whaling community in the Northwest Arctic Borough region!. 2007. Archived from the original on August 8, 2010. Retrieved May 5, 2011.
  8. ^ [1] Archived August 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ [2] Archived January 23, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Circuits Avoid Conflict in Climate Change Nuisance Cases; District Court Diverges: Environmental and Natural Resources Law, Attorneys, Beveridge & Diamond". Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  12. ^ "Case Detail: Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp". Retrieved 2015-09-04.
  13. ^ Carus, Felicity (November 30, 2011). "Alaskan community revives legal bid for global warming damages". The Guardian. London.
  14. ^ R. Trent Taylor (8 October 2012), United States: The Death Of Environmental Common Law?: The Ninth Circuit's Decision In Native Village Of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., mondaq
  15. ^ J. Wylie Donald (October 7, 2012), The third climate change liability suit fights to stay alive: plaintiffs in Kivalina v. ExxonMobil seek rehearing, McCarter & English

External links[edit]