On Friday, September 8, 2023, Legal Newsline reported that William Carnes, a justice on the Superior Court of Rhode Island, has responded to the oil companies’ claims that he appears to be biased against them. In an order issued on September 12, 2023, Carnes stated that he would not accept as true the viewpoints he previously cited from a United Nations Climate Change Conference and two news articles from The Associated Press.

The order was issued in response to calls by Exxon, Chevron, and Shell to strike the articles from an April decision that granted Rhode Island the power to conduct limited discovery into the companies’ marketing of oil and gas and their knowledge about the effects of hydrocarbons on global warming. In that decision, Carnes cited Associated Press articles from November that discussed the impact of climate change on small countries, such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Seychelles, and noted that these countries had argued that oil companies had benefited financially from climate-related disasters while causing severe destruction.

The oil companies claimed that these statements violated Rhode Island’s code of judicial conduct because they referred to information outside the record and disputed claims that were at the core of the case. However, Carnes has now clarified that the articles are not evidence and that he will base any findings in the matter on evidence presented in the proceeding.

The case against the oil companies was brought by Rhode Island, along with several other states and cities, and alleges that the companies failed to inform consumers about the effects of hydrocarbon use on global warming, effectively misleading drivers and the state itself into burning gasoline, oil, and natural gas. The plaintiffs argue that this failure to disclose information constitutes consumer fraud and has resulted in climate-related damages for the state.

The case has faced several challenges, including an attempt by the oil companies to have it moved to federal court, which was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court in April. The case is currently proceeding in state court, with Rhode Island represented by private lawyers at Sher Edling under a contingency fee contract that will pay the firm a portion of any proceeds.

The defendants have also sought to dismiss the case, arguing that Rhode Island lacks specific jurisdiction over them to decide whether they caused climate damages to the state. However, Carnes has ordered limited discovery into this question, and the case continues to move forward.

Overall, the response from Justice Carnes highlights the ongoing legal battle between states and oil companies over climate change. While the oil companies argue that they cannot be held responsible for climate damage, the states argue that the companies have a responsibility to disclose the effects of their products on the environment and to take steps to mitigate those effects. As the case continues to proceed, it will be important to watch how the court handles these arguments and what implications the decision may have for future climate change litigation.

 

Source: Legal Newsline