Dodging Public Nuisance
Public nuisance claims against fossil fuel companies, drug companies, lead paint manufacturers, and other industries have raised the specter of onerous abatement orders and damage awards. While courts sometimes have rejected these industry-oriented public nuisance claims on their substantive merits, in climate change cases federal district courts have turned to doctrines of avoidance—including jurisdictional defenses and justiciability doctrines—to dismiss cases and avoid reaching the substantive merits. This dodging of public nuisance, often supported by questionable legal analysis, not only undermines the functions of tort law, but also cuts short important discussions between the judiciary, the political branches, and the broader public. Although plaintiffs ultimately may not succeed, courts should fulfill their responsibility to address public nuisance claims on their substantive merits, rather than reflexively relying on avoidance doctrines to dodge such claims.