Court dismisses youth-led climate lawsuit, crafts ruling for appeal

Eight young Floridians allege the state of Florida is violating their "right" to a habitable climate. Lead plaintiff Delaney Reynolds is at center. Photo: DelaneyReynolds.com

State Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll on Monday dismissed a youth-led climate lawsuit filed in Florida against state officials but promised to write his ruling so that it is ripe for appeal, and he wished them luck.

Carroll said the eight children and young adults are in effect asking in their lawsuit that the court legislate solutions to the climate crisis.

Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll dismissed a youth-led climate lawsuit that alleges Florida is violating their right to a habitable climate. Photo: Zoom videoconference

“This is not a matter for the court,” Carroll said, announcing his ruling after a three-hour hearing held via videoconference. “I regret to have to tell you this. I don’t want anyone to think I am diminishing what your clients’ concerns are. I think they’re legitimate.”

Attorneys for the youths said they would appeal.

Delaney Reynolds and the other other young Floridians filed suit against state government in 2018 over pollution causing climate change. Their attorneys insisted Monday that state leaders are exacerbating climate change and threatening their fundamental right to live in a habitable environment.

Attorneys for Gov. Ron DeSantis, Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Nikki Fried, and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein told Judge Carroll, in Tallahassee in the 2nd Judicial Circuit, that state authorities have no legal obligation to protect the atmosphere from greenhouse gases accumulating there and causing climate change.

“The public trust doctrine does not and cannot include the atmosphere,” said attorney Jeffrey Brown, representing the DEP and Valenstein.

Assistant State Attorney Karen Brodeen, representing DeSantis and Fried, said there is no constitutional guarantee that the youths or anyone will enjoy a healthy climate, any more than they are guaranteed “world peace or economic prosperity.”

Attorney Mitchell Chester, of Plantation, representing the youths, urged Judge Carroll not to dismiss the cases but to allow it to proceed to trial. He said evidence at trial would prove state officials in fact do have a “public trust” obligation to protect the atmosphere, just as they are required to protect public lands and navigable waters.

Opposing the state’s motion to dismiss the case, Chester said the children and young adults have no means to protect themselves if not for courts compelling government to act on their behalf.

“The harm is being created right now, because all that stuff is going in the atmosphere, all the greenhouses gases which are blocking the sun, heating the earth, warming the oceans and causing the problems I discussed,” Chester said. “Our clients have a fundamental right to a stable climate system. … Climate science is clear: that climate change is accelerating because of human activity.”

Chester and co-counsel Guy Burns, of Tampa, said the state officials are not just failing to protect the climate from greenhouse gas emissions but are affirmatively compounding the problem by approving fossil-fueled activities that intensify those emissions.

Fossil fuels when burned emit long-lived gases that accumulate in the atmosphere and cause the climate to change. Scientists believe they generate hotter weather, rising seas, and stronger hurricanes, among other changes.

The young people who filed the lawsuit are Delaney Reynolds, Oscar Psychas, and six minors identified in court records by their first names. They listened to the videoconference hearing but did not speak.

Theirs is one of a set of youth-led climate lawsuits filed around the nation with support from Our Children’s Trust, a non-profit law firm based in Eugene, Ore.

Laura Cassels
Veteran journalist Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, has a home in Tallahassee and has a farm in South Georgia, where her extended family grows blueberries, grapes and pecans. She is a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]