Description: Lawsuit contending that Alaska state Climate and Energy Policy violated youth plaintiffs' rights under the state constitution.
Sagoonick v. State
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 01/28/2022 Opinion Download Dismissal affirmed. Alaska Supreme Court Affirmed Dismissal of Young People’s Climate Case. In a split decision, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by young Alaskans alleging that the State of Alaska’s development of its natural resources contributed to climate change and violated the Alaska Constitution’s natural resources provisions as well as their individual constitutional rights. The Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs’ claims for injunctive relief—requests that the State stop implementing its statutory energy policy, prepare and complete and accurate accounting of Alaska’s carbon emissions, and develop an enforceable “climate recovery plan”—presented non-justiciable political questions. The Supreme Court found that the Superior Court had not erred by considering the requested relief as part of its political question analysis. The Supreme Court then followed its “sound precedent” in Kanuk—an earlier case brought by young people to compel climate action—to conclude that it could not make “the legislative policy judgments necessary to grant the requested injunctive relief.” The court further concluded that the plaintiffs’ declaratory relief claims did not necessarily present non-justiciable political questions but that the Superior Court had properly dismissed them on “prudential grounds” because they did not present an “actual controversy” that was “appropriate for judicial determination.” The Supreme Court again cited Kanuk. Although noting differences in this case, in which the plaintiffs asserted constitutional rights beyond the public trust doctrine and challenged past actions, as opposed to inaction, the Supreme Court concluded that neither distinction meant that declaratory relief “would settle the parties’ legal relations more fully than it would have in Kanuk.” The Supreme Court also upheld the Department of Environmental Conservation’s denial of the plaintiffs’ rulemaking petition, finding that the Department reasonably could conclude that the regulation sought “was inconsistent with the legislature’s statutory policies and thus outside its delegated authority.” Justice Maassen dissented, joined by Justice Carney, from the court’s “rejection of declaratory relief as serving no useful purpose.” The dissent stated the view that “a balanced consideration of prudential doctrines requires that we explicitly recognize a constitutional right to a livable climate.” Although the dissent agreed that the majority’s decision was consistent with Kanuk, Justice Maassen wrote that he was “no longer convinced that nothing can be gained by clarifying Alaskans’ constitutional rights and the State’s corresponding duties in the context of climate change.” Justice Maassen would have found that the public trust doctrine in the Alaska Constitution provided a right to a livable climate. 07/25/2019 Reply Download Reply brief filed by appellants. 03/26/2019 Amicus Brief Download Brief filed by amici curiae Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, Eyak Preservation Council, and Native Conservancy Land Trust in support of appellants. 03/26/2019 Brief Download Brief filed by appellants. 11/29/2018 Statement Download Statement of points on appeal filed by appellants. Youth Plaintiffs Filed Appeal in Alaska Supreme Court of Dismissal of Climate Case Based on State Constitution. A group of youth plaintiffs appealed an Alaska trial court’s dismissal of their lawsuit that charged that the State of Alaska’s climate and energy policies violated their rights under the Alaska constitution to a stable climate system. In their statement of points on appeal, the plaintiffs asserted that the Alaska Superior Court misconstrued four counts alleging violations of previously recognized constitutional rights as a “single constitutional claim to an unenumerated substantive due process right to a stable climate system” and failed to address other claims. The plaintiffs also said the Superior Court failed “to liberally construe and assume the truth of the facts alleged in their complaint, erred by finding the claims to be nonjusticiable, and erred by finding that reductions in the State’s greenhouse gas emissions would not redress the plaintiffs’ injuries. In addition, the plaintiffs contended that the trial court erred by finding that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s denial of their rulemaking petition was not arbitrary and by not addressing whether the denial violated the plaintiffs’ due process rights.
Sinnok v. Alaska
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 10/30/2018 Order Download Motion to dismiss granted. Alaska Court Rejected Youth Plaintiffs’ Lawsuit Alleging State Climate and Energy Policies Violated State Constitution. The Alaska Superior Court dismissed claims brought by 16 youth plaintiffs against the State of Alaska, its governor, and State agencies alleging that the State’s climate and energy policies violated their rights under the Alaska constitution to a stable climate system. The court found that the plaintiffs’ claims for injunctive relief were indistinguishable from claims presented in an earlier case that involved two of the same plaintiffs (Kanuk v. Alaska) in which the Alaska Supreme Court determined that the claims required science- and policy-based inquiry and therefore presented non-justiciable political questions. The Superior Court also cited Kanuk in concluding that the plaintiffs’ claims for declaratory relief must be dismissed on prudential grounds because declaratory relief would not advance the plaintiffs’ interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Superior Court also upheld the Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner’s denial of a rulemaking petition to address climate change. 08/24/2018 Complaint Download Amended complaint filed. 02/12/2018 Reply Download Reply brief filed in support of defendants' motion to dismiss. 01/19/2018 Opposition Download Opposition to motion to dismiss filed by plaintiffs. 12/11/2017 Brief Download Opening brief filed in support of defendants' motion to dismiss. 10/27/2017 Complaint Download Complaint filed. Youth Plaintiffs Commenced Lawsuit Alleging That Alaska’s Climate and Energy Policy Violated Constitutional Rights. Sixteen youth plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the State of Alaska, its governor, and Alaska state agencies in Alaska state court alleging that the defendants had violated their rights under the Alaska constitution by implementing a “Climate and Energy Policy” that authorized and facilitated activities producing greenhouse gas emissions and failed to implement climate mitigation standards. The plaintiffs alleged that the State’s denial in September 2017 of their rulemaking petition requesting reductions of Alaska’s greenhouse gas emissions provided evidence of this Climate and Energy Policy and violated their constitutional rights. The plaintiffs charged that the defendants’ conduct infringed on their fundamental substantive due process rights to life, liberty, and property and other unenumerated rights, including the right to a stable climate system. The plaintiffs further contended that the defendants had knowingly and with deliberate indifference created a dangerous situation for the plaintiffs in violation of their substantive due process rights. In addition, the plaintiffs asserted an equal protection claim, contending that they should be treated as a protected class because some of the plaintiffs were below the voting age and because the “overwhelming majority of harmful effects” caused by the defendants’ actions would occur in the future; the plaintiffs asserted that “the harm caused by Defendants has denied Youth Plaintiffs the same protection of fundamental rights afforded to prior and present generations of adult citizens.” The complaint also alleged a violation of Alaska’s Public Trust Doctrine. The plaintiffs sought declaratory relief, an injunction barring the defendants from further implementing their Climate and Energy Policy, and orders requiring the defendants to complete an accounting of the State’s greenhouse gas emissions and to develop a climate recovery plan to achieve “science-based numeric reductions of Alaska’s in-boundary and extraction-based emissions consistent with global emissions reductions rates necessary to stabilize the climate system and protect the vital Public Trust Resources on which Youth Plaintiffs depend.”