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Hawaii Circuit Court judge rules against throwing out suit against oil corporations

A Hawaii judge has denied a request by several oil corporations to dismiss a lawsuit by the City and County of Honolulu against them over the mounting costs of dealing with climate change.

Hawaii First Circuit Court Judge Jeffree P. Crabtree on Tuesday rejected the oil corporations’ motion to dismiss the suit.

Attorneys for the corporations argued that the case belongs in federal court, not state court, and that they were doing what the federal government expected them to do, which was to produce oil, and therefore that the county’s lawsuit should be dismissed for “failure to state a claim.”

The case dates back to March 2020, when the City and County of Honolulu filed the suit against a long list of oil corporations, including Sunoco LP, Aloha Petroleum Ltd. and ExxonMobil Oil Corp., among others, in state Circuit Court, alleging that they should be held accountable for knowingly causing the damages and costs associated with climate change due to oil production.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount for dealing with impacts such as sea level rise, flooding, beach loss, erosion and more extreme weather.

Judge Crabtree acknowledged that this “is an unprecedented case for any court,” but ruled it is still a tort case “based exclusively on state law causes of action.”

“We appreciate Judge Crabtree’s thorough review and subsequent order denying the Defendants’ motion to dismiss the case,” said Matthew Gonser, chief resilience officer of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, in a statement. “The Court recognized that Honolulu’s case is grounded in well-established state law tort claims such as failures to disclose and deceptive promotions, and that it is important for cities such as Honolulu to be able to seek redress for their injuries.”

Gonser continued with, “On behalf of Honolulu’s taxpayers, we look forward to the opportunity to present our evidence at trial. We are confident in the strength of our case.”

Maui County filed a similar suit against the oil corporations in October 2020.

Sher Edling LLC of San Francisco, counsel for the suit filed for Honolulu, is also representing San Mateo County, Calif., the City of Baltimore, Md., and the state of Rhode Island in litigation over climate change impacts.

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