The Biggest Lawsuit on the Planet

Juliana v. US moves forward

On November 10th, 2016, United States District Court Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the climate change lawsuit brought by 21 youth plaintiffs can proceed. Judge Aiken's opinion states: "This action is of a different order than the typical environmental case. It alleges that the defendants' actions and inactions — whether or not they violate any specific statutory duty — have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs' fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty."

The opinion cites publications by Professor Mary Wood, faculty director of the ENR Center at Oregon Law and a leading expert in the public trust doctrine. The doctrine fosters the idea that natural resources are held in trust by the government and that the government must manage them responsibly in order to ensure continued use by future generations. Wood's cited book "Nature's Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age," which was published in 2014, asserts that in addition to public lands, wildlife, and water, the atmosphere is a resource held in trust by the government. The opinion also cites the work of former ENR Center fellow Nathan Bellinger ('14) and Professor Gerald Torres of Cornell Law School. 

The climate change lawsuit, Juliana v. US, argues that the government has violated its fiduciary duty to the plaintiffs, the youth of America, to protect the atmosphere by failing to act to prevent climate change. Referred to by Wood and others as, "the biggest lawsuit on the planet," Juliana v. US has been covered by media outlets including CNN, Bloomberg, Slate, New Republic, The OregonianBoulder Weekly, Pacific Standard, and more.

The plaintiff's case is being litigated by the Eugene-based nonprofit Our Children's Trust. Three Oregon Law alumni Elizabeth Brown ('13), Gordon Levitt ('16), and Bellinger working with the organization are highlighted on page 33 of the ENR Center newsletter.

For more information on the public trust doctrine, check out the following publications by Professor Wood and the ENR Center: