Federal Judge Stumps Trial Lawyers Handling NYC’s Climate Lawsuit With One Question


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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A federal judge posed a question to lawyers representing New York City in its global warming lawsuit against five major oil companies — does the city invest in fossil fuels?

The answer is an unambiguous yes, but attorneys representing the city told U.S. District Court Judge John Keenan they “don’t know,” further arguing that fact was “beyond the scope of the pleadings” during a court hearing on Tuesday.

Keenan didn’t seem to buy it, and pressed attorney Matthew Pawa on whether or not New York City was trying to relitigate failed attempts to get a monetary judgement on damages allegedly caused by man-made warming.

New York City filed its lawsuit against oil companies in January, demanding compensation for damages allegedly caused by global warming, including future damages. The city hired the firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP to handle its suit in exchange for a share of any winnings — potentially billions of dollars.

Keenan heard arguments on Tuesday on whether or not New York City’s lawsuit should be dismissed. Pawa argued carbon dioxide emissions from oil companies products constituted a “nuisance,” but Keenan didn’t seem to buy it.

“I don’t think it’s hard to take judicial notice of the fact the city police department has a lot of cars, that the firehouse has trucks,” Keenan said. “Isn’t the plaintiff using the product that is the subject of this lawsuit?”

Pawa admitted the city used fossil fuels, but said the question wasn’t pertinent to defendants’ — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell — motion to dismiss the case. (RELATED: Berkeley Declares A ‘Climate Emergency,’ Calls For Population Control)

After huddling with co-counsel, Pawa also said “we don’t know the answer to that your honor” when asked about the city’s fossil fuel investments.

Pawa’s answer was odd given New York City announced earlier this year it would divest from fossil fuel assets within five years. The announcement was made the same time Mayor Bill De Blasio announced their lawsuit against oil companies — the very case Pawa was arguing in court.

“In total, the City’s five pension funds hold roughly $5 billion in the securities of over 190 fossil fuel companies,” reads the city’s January news release on divestment. “The City’s move is among the most significant divestment efforts in the world to date.”

Pawa did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment on why he told Judge Keenan he did not know if the city was invested in fossil fuel companies.

Hagens Berman is handling lawsuits for at least three other local governments — San Francisco, Oakland and King County, Wa. All these suits are against the same five oil companies. The firm handles these cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning they get a percentage of any winnings.

The firm Seeger Weiss LLP is also handling New York City’s lawsuit, and the firm Sher Edling LLP is handling lawsuits for six California cities and counties against fossil fuel companies. These firms are also working for a percentage of any winnings.

The suits allege global warming violate state nuisance and trespassing laws, which have sometimes been applied to pollution. Trial lawyers also accused energy companies of trying to downplay the harms their products allegedly cause.

In March, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said plaintiff’s attempts to show oil companies conspired to cover up global warming science “shows nothing of the sort,” according to a journalist present at the hearing.

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