Appeals court declines to hear Hoboken’s case against ExxonMobil, heading back to N.J.


U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has declined to hear the City of Hoboken’s case against ExxonMobil for damages caused by climate change, a 36-page opinion says.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Photo via

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“Our federal system trusts state courts to hear most cases – even big, important ones that raise federal defenses. Plaintiffs choose which claims to file, in which court, and under which law,” wrote Appeals Court Judge Stephanos Bibas.

“Defendants may prefer federal court, but they may not remove their cases to federal court unless federal laws let them. Here, they do not.”

The ruling came after Exxon, Shell, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips sought to have the case heard on the federal level, but to no avail, with the appeals court indicating their is no jurisdiction there.

They also made the same ruling in a virtually identical case filed by the State of Delaware and the Delaware Attorney General’s Office.

“Delaware and Hoboken, New Jersey each sued the oil companies in state court for state-law torts. By “produc[ing], marketing, and s[e]l[ling] fossil fuels,” they said, the oil companies had worsened climate change,” the court recalled.

“Hoboken App. 68. So they sought damages for the environmental harm they had suffered and injunctions to stop future harm. Though these suits started in state court, they did not stay there. The oil companies promptly removed them to federal district courts.”

The oil companies argued that the cases brought up either inherently federal claims or that they raised federal issues, but that argument wasn’t enough.

“Most federal-question cases allege violations of the Constitution, federal statutes, or federal common law. But Delaware and Hoboken allege only the torts of nuisance, trespass, negligence (including negligent failure to warn), and misrepresentation, plus consumer-fraud violations, all under state law,” the ruling says.

“So the companies must show either that these state claims are completely preempted by federal law or that some substantial federal issue must be resolved.”

Hoboken officials announced they had filed suit in September 2020, joining at least 19 other cities, states and counties across the country, marking the first in New Jersey, to allege that Big Oil companies have engaged in repeated deception over a span of decades that has resulted in adverse impacts of climate change.

Nearly two years later, it appears that the case is heading back where it started.

“Climate change is an important problem with national and global implications. But federal courts cannot hear cases just because they are important. The Constitution restricts us to resolving claims that are about federal law or that Congress has expressly authorized us to hear. These claims check neither box. So we cannot hear them,” the opinion concludes.

Matthew Brinckerhoff, of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maaze, said that the big oil companies stall tactics have failed and they look forward to proving the case in state court.

“The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Hoboken’s state law damage claims arising from the fossil fuel industry’s decades of climate change deception belong where they were brought – in state court. Defendants’ delay tactics have failed. Hoboken will now prove its claims in state court.”

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    • It would be interesting to find out the real cost to Hoboken taxpayers for what was obviously just an exercise in self serving political virtue signaling from the start by the Mayor and the City Council.