A federal court in Mississippi has dismissed with prejudice a lawsuit filed by property owners against several insurers and oil companies, alleging that defendants’ activities contributed to global warming that ultimately led to conditions which caused Hurricane Katrina and the resulting damage. Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., No. 11-220 (S.D. Miss. 3/20/12).
In a prior lawsuit filed in 2005, plaintiffs alleged that byproducts oil companies released into the air led to the development and increase of global warming and that the insurers wrongfully denied insurance coverage for damages plaintiffs incurred during Hurricane Katrina. In several amendments to the complaint, plaintiffs added chemical manufacturers and mortgage, electric and coal companies as defendants.
In 2007, the district court dismissed plaintiffs’ lawsuit, ruling that plaintiffs’ claims were non-justiciable. In 2009, the Fifth Circuit reversed in part as to the state-based claims of public and private nuisance, trespass and negligence. After the plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing en banc, several Fifth Circuit judges were disqualified, and the appeal was dismissed due to loss of a quorum. On May 27, 2011, a number of former plaintiffs filed the present lawsuit against several oil, coal, electric, and chemical companies alleging public and private nuisance, trespass and negligence. They also sought a declaratory judgment that the Clean Air Act (CAA) did not preempt their state-law tort claims.
The court ruled that plaintiffs lacked standing to sue, the CAA preempts the plaintiffs’ claims and the suit posed a political question that should be decided by the legislature and regulators. The court held that the Mississippi property owners cannot prove that the companies’ particular emissions caused their property damage. According to the court, “[a]t most, the plaintiffs can argue that the types of emissions released by the defendants, when combined with similar emissions released over an extended period of time by innumerable manmade and naturally-occurring sources encompassing the entire planet may have contributed to global warming, which caused sea temperatures to rise, which in turn caused glaciers and icebergs to melt, which caused sea levels to rise, which may have strengthened Hurricane Katrina, which damaged the plaintiffs’ property.”