How the Left is using public nuisance lawsuits to change your everyday life
An unprecedented proliferation of left-wing “public nuisance” lawsuits is threatening access to staple consumer products and the everyday conveniences upon which consumers rely.
A traditional public nuisance lawsuit alleges unreasonable interference with a right common to the public. A lawsuit against a California Sriracha factory after residents complained that fumes stung their eyes and throats offers an example of how the cases are supposed to work and how uncommon they are supposed to be.
But in recent years, progressive cities such as Boulder or Oakland have formed alliances with trial lawyers to use public nuisance lawsuits to demand untold billions and directly or indirectly reshape the products people are able to buy.
There has been rightful attention on the cash-grab aspect of these cases and how trial lawyers are lining their own pockets with these suits. But it is crucial to look beyond the simple cash grab. These actors are weaponizing law to strongarm companies into changing their operations and even their product offerings. After all, the goal of a public nuisance claim is to abate the nuisance.
A tour through some of the recent public nuisance targets helps illustrate the all-out assault on everyday people and their shopping carts that the Left is executing.
One wave of lawsuits targets single-use plastic products. These nuisance claims broadly allege that defendants are overrunning global disposal and recycling capacities and polluting waterways in the name of profit. The targets are companies such as Danone, which makes a litany of the yogurts, milks, and other dairy products you see across your store aisle. And trial lawyers and environmentalists are also suing Coca-Cola and Pepsico over their single-use water bottles. (Think Smart Water, Dasani, and Aquafina.)
This might seem fine to the Whole Foods crowd that happily pays more for paper containers and eschews plastics in all corners of life. But if you are one of the countless parents or commuters who treat the dairy and water aisles of the local big box grocery store like an episode of Supermarket Sweep, take heed: Public nuisance lawsuits such as these are trying to reshape your life.
Next up on the public nuisance tour: cars. Insurance data reflect a nationwide surge in car thefts. But rather than prosecute career criminals, officials in Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Seattle are blaming Hyundai and Kia and suing these automakers under public nuisance theories for making “theft-prone” vehicles.
While the Hyundai and Kia claims are singularly ridiculous, they represent a warning of what to expect as the wave of public nuisance lawsuits over climate change continues to expand. There are already some two dozen “climate nuisance” cases that seek billions from energy companies for their alleged complicity in climate change. Multnomah County in Oregon, which covers ultra-progressive Portland, filed the latest of these and demanded $50 billion from several major oil companies, including Exxon and Chevron, citing a 2021 heat wave that scorched much of the country.
These public nuisance suits are clearly intended to force a wind-down of fossil fuel production, so we can surely expect that automakers will soon be in the crosshairs for daring to make cars that burn what the oil companies pump and refine. Make no mistake: The Left won’t stop at the gas station; they will come for your gas-powered car too, no matter how important it is to you, your family, or your job.
As some of the longest-running cases, the climate claims tell us a lot — not just about the next targets but also about how progressives plan to win.
One thing these cases show us is that the Left is committed to using state courts as its preferred venue. This is partly because the climate cases have received some of their biggest setbacks in federal court . But it is also perhaps because they believe that they have ideologically captured a substantial segment of state courts through trial lawyer donations, state-bar influence (through so-called “merit selection” mechanisms), and other activist campaigns.
These climate change cases also show how the strategy is to overwhelm industries. As the jaw-dropping claim from Oregon shows — $50 billion for one city in one state — the climate plaintiffs need only prevail once to reshape an industry and bend it to their will through the courtroom.
This is the playbook, and it is expanding. The Left’s lawsuits may soon turn traditional cars, plastic containers, gas stoves, and countless other products into luxury goods. Public nuisance is coming for your shopping cart, and it is time to pay attention before it is too late and your store shelves all reflect progressive preferences.
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