California cities and counties filed lawsuits against major oil companies, alleging that they concealed the climate hazards associated with the production and use of their fossil-fuel products. The companies removed the cases to federal district court on a number of grounds, including that they were entitled to remove under the “federal officer removal” statute, which provides persons sued or prosecuted in a state court for acts taken under the direction of a federal officer and under color of federal office to remove the case to federal court. The companies asserted that certain contracts they had with the federal government required them to take some of the actions for which they were sued.
The district court held that none of the grounds for removal asserted by the oil companies was proper and remanded the case to state court. Although remand orders are normally not appealable, orders remanding cases removed under the federal officer removal statute are appealable, and the companies appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Public Citizen filed a brief as amicus curiae supporting the cities and counties. The brief explains that commercial relationships such as those the oil companies had with the federal government do not transform the companies into agents acting on behalf of federal officers and entitle them to remove cases brought against them.
Accepting the arguments advanced in our brief, the court of appeals affirmed the district court’s decision that the oil companies were not entitled to invoke the federal officer removal statute.