An Empirical Survey of Climate Change Litigation in the United States

12 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2010 Last revised: 20 Feb 2014

See all articles by David L. Markell

David L. Markell

Florida State University - College of Law

J. B. Ruhl

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: April 6, 2010


A quickly growing number of commentators have suggested that the domestic U.S. courts are already significant drivers of climate change policy, and their role is likely to increase. Carol Browner, Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, for example, has suggested that “the courts are starting to take control” of climate change.

In addition to fashioning law on their own, judicial decisions have significant implications for the work of the other branches, For example, in characterizing the Second Circuit’s recent decision in Connecticut v. American Electric Power a significant victory for activists because of its favorable holdings on standing and justiciability grounds, Professor Richard Lazarus notes that a major challenge for “environmentalists” is “how best to use this win to help promote meaningful climate change legislation in Congress and regulatory action by EPA, where the issues will best be addressed.”

The foundational gap we seek to begin to fill in this Article is an empirically-based chronicling of climate change activity in the judicial arena. In particular, we have reviewed, and coded for a broad variety of attributes, every climate change case that has been resolved to date (through December 31, 2009); and, if a case has been filed but no resolution has yet been reached, we have reviewed (and coded) the complaint and other documents in the court docket. In all our study covers over 130 active or resolved pieces of climate change litigation.

We hope that this project will contribute in two important respects to understanding of the action in the courts on climate change to date. First, we compile and present basic information about the cases brought to date (e.g., the types of cases, where they have been brought, the types of plaintiffs and defendants involved, and the outcomes). In addition, we provide an additional layer of analysis through our synthesis of this information and our identification of trends that have emerged thus far. Our purpose in this Article, in short, is to present an empirically-based picture of what one New York Times headline describes as courts serving as “battlefields” in “climate fights.”

Keywords: climate change lawsuits, litigation, NEPA, climate change

Suggested Citation

Markell, David L. and Ruhl, J. B., An Empirical Survey of Climate Change Litigation in the United States (April 6, 2010). FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 433, FSU College of Law, Law, Business & Economics Paper No. 10-5, Available at SSRN: or

David L. Markell

Florida State University - College of Law ( email )

J. B. Ruhl (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States

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