Federal Climate Lawsuit Filed in 2011 (Alec L. v. McCarthy) 

Five individual teenagers, and two non-profit organizations representing thousands more young people, Kids vs. Global Warming and WildEarth Guardians, partnered with OUR CHILDREN'S TRUST to file a federal lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The youth sought to require the federal government to immediately plan for national climate recovery according to the scientific prescription of Dr. James Hansen and other leading international climate scientists that will restore our atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 by the end of the century and avoid the disastrous scenarios of 2°C of warming. The lawsuit was premised on the long-established legal principle of the Public Trust Doctrine, which requires our government to protect and maintain survival resources for future generations.

Timeline of Case

December 8, 2014

In Response to Supreme Court Denial, Youth Climate Advocates Continue Quest For Effective Federal Climate Action

We received notice from the U.S. Supreme Court that it has decided not to hear our young people’s case seeking protection of essential natural resources for the benefit of future generations. Of course, we are gravely disappointed, but we are also realistic and undeterred.

The Supreme Court decides to hear only 75-80 of the 10,000 worthy cases filed with it each year, and decided to hear only 3 of the 119 it considered with ours in its last conference. In our case, we suspect the Court wants a deeper split between the Circuits than currently exists between the 8th, 9th, and 10th Circuit decisions favoring our position, and the D.C. Circuit decision we were appealing.

Our Children’s Trust has been building new federal cases on behalf of youth to secure science-based climate recovery policy nationally, and will return to the Supreme Court if necessary. We will expand our efforts to enforce individual states’ responsibilities to preserve the atmosphere for the benefit of future generations, and we will advance select global and local efforts to do the same. Piecemeal legislative and executive actions not based on nature’s laws will simply never get us where we need to be. We need judicial declarations that government must act systemically to stabilize our climate.

We are so grateful for your support of our efforts and we hope to have your continued support as we respond promptly to the strong resistance we face and keep the pressure on the courts so science-based climate recovery is implemented comprehensively and quickly, and before it is too late.

November 6, 2014

Prominent Amicus Groups File Supreme Court Briefs In Support Of Climate Change Case Brought By Young Americans

Today prominent national leaders, including legal scholars, economic and national security experts, religious groups, climate scientists, conservation and social justice organizations, native communities, business and government leaders, and cities filed amicus briefs with the United States Supreme Court in a major climate change case. The case, Alec L. v. McCarthy, Supreme Court Case No. 14-405, seeks a decision that the federal government has public trust obligations to protect essential national natural resources for present and future generations. The three amicus briefs, representing scientists, legal scholars, and diverse national interests, displayed resounding legal support for an October 2014 Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed on behalf of group of young Americans with the United States Supreme Court.

Read the Climate Scientists' Amicus Brief.

Read the Law Professors' Amicus Brief.

Read the Amicus Brief on behalf of The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Institute Leadership Team, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, et al. on the national importance of the case.

October 3, 2014

Youth Climate Advocates File Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court

On October 3, 2014, youth represented by OUR CHILDREN’S TRUST’s legal team filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court to confirm the federal government’s obligation to protect essential natural resources for the benefit of future generations.

This Petition is in response to a decision in the youths’ federal case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Despite outstanding support for the youths’ case from 111 individual law professors, scientists, national security experts, government officials, environmental, human rights and labor NGOs, indigenous community members, and faith-based organizations, all of whom signed powerful amici curiae (“friends of the court”) brief, the Court of Appeals held that there is no “federal constitutional foundation for [the public trust] doctrine.” We believe the Court’s holding is erroneous and in conflict with the decisions of other Circuit Courts and those of the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, the federal government itself, and several District Courts, have for years also relied upon the very federal public trust doctrine the Court of Appeals said does not exist at all.

The Court of Appeals relied on a narrow U.S. Supreme Court decision written by Justice Kennedy as support for its expansive ruling. PPL Mont., LLC v. Montana, 132 S. Ct. 1215 (2012). That decision was specifically limited to a very different legal doctrine (the Equal Footing Doctrine) than youth relied upon in their case (the Public Trust Doctrine). Nowhere in the two paragraphs of dicta referencing the public trust doctrine does the U.S. Supreme Court find in PPL Mont., as the Court of Appeals determined in our case, that the long-standing public trust doctrine does not exist in federal law or apply to the federal government.

The Supreme Court generally disfavors expansive interpretations of its narrow decisions. Supreme Court justices strive to ensure that their decisions are limited only to the facts at hand and that those decisions are not misapplied to different sets of facts. We expect that the Court would not want their narrow PPL Montana decision about the Equal Footing Doctrine, as narrowly applied therein to state obligations involving water resources located within state borders, broadly applied in our case to federal obligations involving atmospheric resources that cross state borders. Thus, we believe the Court will be inclined to remedy the Court of Appeals’ expansive interpretation of their narrow PPL Montana decision and will reverse the Circuit Court. As well, we believe that the majority of the Supreme Court justices are climate believers who will be invested in preserving potential governmental remedies for climate recovery in face of the narrow window in which science tells them they have to do so.

Read the Petition for Writ of Certiorari here.

June 5, 2014

Youth Denied Critical Climate Change Relief by U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit

A panel of judges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia refused to grant important climate change relief sought by youth appellants. The young people’s lawsuit asked the federal government to do its part in restoring the atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 by the end of the century. The appellants’ requested relief was based on the urgent warning of leading international climate scientists that failure to do so will result in disastrous climate disruption during the lifetimes of the youth.

The Court of Appeals reasoned in its decision affirming the district court's dismissal of the case that there was no federal jurisdiction because the Public Trust Doctrine is a matter of state, not federal, law. The panel did not address the appellants’ separate constitutional claims, nor did it address how disparate states would protect the one atmosphere they all share, under 50 separate state public trust responsibilities.

“We strongly believe that the U.S. Constitution protects the right to a stable climate system,” said
Philip Gregory, with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP, co-counsel for the Youth Appellants. “As in the Civil Rights cases, where our federal courts had to step in to ensure that important rights were protected, we believe the U.S. Constitution and the Public Trust Doctrine provide the necessary legal basis for the federal courts to protect our atmosphere from irreparable harm. On behalf of our youth plaintiffs, I am disappointed the Court of Appeals did not agree with us on the scope of the Public Trust Doctrine and did not address our constitutional arguments."

Read the court's decision here.

May 2, 2014

Oral argument will be heard in the youth's appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals at 9:30 am, before Chief Judge Garland, Circuit Judge Srinivasan, and Senior Circuit Judge Ginsburg.

**UPDATE: The Court issued an order on April 24th announcing that they no longer wanted to hear oral arguments and that they intend to decide the case on the written briefing. Youth filed a motion to reconsider, emphasizing the importance of oral arguments in this case.

January 22, 2014

Youth file their reply brief in their appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

December 23, 2013

Federal Defendants-Appellees file their response brief to Youth Appellants' opening brief and are supported by fossil fuel industry intervenors and the American Tort Reform Association.

November 12, 2013


Washington, D.C. - Today, prominent groups and individuals across the nation showed their broad-base support of the young people suing the federal government for not acting to reverse climate change. National security and political leaders, religious groups, scientists, legal scholars, conservation and social justice organizations, and native communities came together to file seven amicus curiae ("friend of the court") briefs in support of the youth appellants' appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. 

SCIENTISTS FILE AMICUS BRIEF: Dr. James Hansen and ten other prominent scientists from around the world filed their amicus curiae brief supporting the young people. Read the compelling brief

LEGAL SCHOLARS FILE AMICUS BRIEF: 34 Legal Scholars filed their amicus curiae brief supporting the young people. Read the brief.
**UPDATE: The Court refiled a shorter version of their amicus curiae brief with the court.

Here's what Karl Coplan, Professor of Law at Pace Law School in New York had to say about the youths' case:

"This case, which seeks to establish constitutional protections for future generations in the same way that Brown v. Board of Education established equal protection for African Americans, may be the most important appeal the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals hears for a very long time to come. The sovereign Public Trust principles at issue in the case are part of the constitutional bedrock of our nation, recognized by our founders, and they support the conditions that our youth need in their future. We believe the Constitution was formulated to limit the power of one generation to undercut the endurance of the nation and deprive posterity of the conditions necessary for citizens to survive and prosper."

FAITH GROUPS FILE AMICUS BRIEF: Six faith groups that serve vulnerable communities across the United States, filed their amicus curiae brief supporting the young people. Read the brief.

NATIVE COMMUNITIES FILE AMICUS BRIEF: The National Congress of American Indians, along with many other supporters of Native communities in the United States filed their amicus curiae brief in support of the young people. Through their brief, the amici seek to ensure that in deciding the youths' case the court understands the unique impacts of climate change on Native Nations and how the law applicable to Indian Country varies from the law applicable elsewhere. Read the brief.

NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERTS FILE AMICUS BRIEF: National security experts filed their amicus curiae brief in support of the young people and state that “[c]omprehensive and coordinated action by Government Appellees to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is essential to mitigate the worst security consequences of climate change.” Read the brief.

GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS FILE AMICUS BRIEF: Government officials from around the country filed their amicus curiae brief in support of the young people. Check out the brief.

SOCIAL JUSTICE, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND CONSERVATION ORGANIZATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS FILE AMICUS BRIEF: Several organizations and individuals came together to file their Global Climate Impacts amicus curiae brief to support the youth suing the federal government on climate change. Check out the brief.

October 22, 2013


Washington, D.C. -- Today, attorneys for five youth plaintiffs and two non-profit organizations filed their opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to force the federal government to implement a comprehensive Climate Recovery Plan. Read the opening brief.

June 27, 2013

Youth Appeal Decision in Landmark Federal Constitutional Litigation Concerning Climate Change

Washington, D.C. – Today, youth plaintiffs took their lawsuit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, demanding the appeals court issue a decision ordering the Obama Administration to immediately implement a comprehensive Climate Recovery Plan. The youth are appealing the district court’s dismissal of their “Atmospheric Trust” case, continuing their fight to protect their climate and their fundamental constitutional rights as young U.S. citizens.
The Obama Administration has failed to develop, let alone implement, a climate plan that will actually protect our generation," said Alec Loorz, founder of Kids vs Global Warming, in announcing the filing of the appeal. "The youth of America are forced to look to the courts to protect our constitutional right to clean air.

June 28, 2012

Youth plaintiffs filed a motion to reconsider a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia not to hear their claim that the federal government has a constitutional responsibility to protect the atmosphere on behalf of present and future generations.
Read the supporting brief.

May 31, 2012

Today the District Court for the District of Columbia issued a decision granting the government defendants' and fossil fuel intervenors' motions to dismiss the youth plaintiffs' case.

Statement from plaintiffs' attorney Julia Olson:

We are obviously disappointed. Let me first say we are so proud of the youth of our nation for standing up and pursuing the only remedy that allows them a future life and planet they have a right to inherit. Regarding the decision, we respectfully disagree with the court as to the scope and effect of the federal Public Trust Doctrine. However, we agree with Judge Wilkins that “this case is about the fundamental nature of our government and our constitutional system.” That system mandates protection of our fundamental right to a healthy atmosphere, on which humanity depends. We continue to believe we are legally correct and we will be continuing our efforts on behalf of our nation’s youth.

Statement from federal plaintiff Alec Loorz:

The court wants us to find or even "seize" common ground with the fossil fuel industry and government. But I believe that as long as these institutions value profits and power over the survival of my generation, there can be no common ground. The government may say that we need to do something about the climate crisis, but when they continue to do nothing, the courts have to step in to protect us. That didn’t happen today, but we will not give up. Our futures are at stake. We will continue fighting to protect our planet for our generation . . . and all who follow, for as long as it takes.

May 11, 2012

The hearing on the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss the case is set for May 11th in D.C. 

May 2012

Four law professors for industry filed an amicus curiae brief arguing there is no federal public trust, and if there is, its purpose is to allow pollution. Check out Plaintiffs' strong response here.

April 2012

The youth plaintiffs' attorneys filed an Opposition to the Intervenor's Motion to Dismiss the federal case, access it here.

December 7, 2011

The Federal Case has been transferred to D.C. because of its national significance and for the convenience of the federal government. The December 15 hearing is off calendar and will be rescheduled in D.C. We will keep you posted on new dates so check back soon!

ALSO! Top Law Professors around the country, including Professor Joseph Sax, file an amicus brief in support of youth and the Public Trust.

Legal teams in the OCT network file a response to the government defendants’ denial of their responsibility for addressing global warming.

September 28, 2011

OCT supports an unprecedented filing in federal court in San Francisco.

Youth plaintiffs seek immediate court intervention to compel government action on climate change in a lawsuit against six federal agencies. A motion for a preliminary injunction was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to require federal agencies to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent further increases in U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and to compel government action in reducing CO2 emissions by 6% per year by 2013. The legal filing is supported by 13 top experts from around the world on climate science, energy and U.S. policy. This is the first lawsuit to address climate crisis that focuses on the need for a national plan and the risks to future generations and our nation's security.

Read the Plaintiffs' Brief

Read James Hansen's Amicus Brief

July 27, 2011

Plaintiffs file an amended complaint.

July 2011

Case has been reassigned to Judge Chen of the Northern District of California, a recent appointment to the bench. The lawsuit is set to move forward, with expectation for action in September.

May 4, 2011

OCT supported legal teams as they filed a lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of the Interior, the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Commerce, the United States Department of Energy and the United States Department of Defense.