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State of Rhode Island v. Shell Oil Co.

The State of Rhode Island filed a lawsuit against major oil companies, alleging that the companies 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 allows 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 a case from state court to federal court. The companies asserted that this statute authorized removal of the case because certain contracts they had with the federal government required them to take some of the actions for which they were sued. After 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, the companies appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

On appeal, Public Citizen filed a brief as amicus curiae supporting the state. 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 do not entitle them to remove cases brought against them in state court. The court of appeals affirmed the remand order, ruling that the oil companies were not acting under federal officers within the meaning of the federal officer removal statute.