Description: Action seeking declaration that state had obligation to protect atmosphere as public trust and regulate greenhouse emissions.
Chernaik v. Brown
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 05/11/2015 Opinion and Order Download Opinion and order issued granting summary judgment to defendants. On remand, an Oregon Circuit Court ruled that the State’s public trust doctrine applied only to submerged and submersible lands, and not to other resources such as the atmosphere, waters of the State, beaches and shorelands, and fish and wildlife. With respect to the atmosphere, the court questioned “whether the atmosphere is a ‘natural resource’ at all.” The court further declared that the State did not have a fiduciary obligation to protect submerged and submersible lands from the impacts of climate change, concluding that the public trust doctrine merely restricted the ability of the State to entirely alienate such lands. The court also said that granting the relief sought by plaintiffs could violate the separation of powers doctrine, and that the court would not have had sufficient information before it to make a determination as to appropriate concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The plaintiffs indicated that they would appeal the decision. An Oregon appellate court previously reversed the circuit court’s determination that it did not have jurisdiction over the lawsuit. 04/05/2012 Opinion and Order Download Opinion and order issued granting motion to dismiss. 05/19/2011 Complaint Download Amended complaint filed.
Chernaik v. Kitzhaber
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 06/11/2014 Opinion Download Opinion issued reversing dismissal of action and remanding to trial court. The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s dismissal of a public trust doctrine lawsuit. The trial court had concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the action, in which plaintiffs sought declaratory and equitable relief for the State of Oregon’s failures to meet its fiduciary obligations to protect natural resources such as the atmosphere from the impacts of climate change. The trial court grounded its conclusion in separation of powers and political question concerns. The appellate court ruled that the trial court had authority under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act to issue a declaration of whether the atmosphere and other natural resources were “trust resources” that the State of Oregon had a fiduciary obligation to protect from climate change impacts. The court rejected defendants’ contention that such declarations would not amount to the sort of “meaningful relief” required to make plaintiffs’ claims justiciable. The appellate court declined to address the merits of plaintiffs’ claims, indicating that such a determination would only be possible after the parties had litigated the merits and a court had declared “the scope of the public trust doctrine and defendants’ obligations, if any, under it.”