Our Children's Trust

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Our Children's Trust (OCT) is an American nonprofit organization based in Oregon that has filed several lawsuits on behalf of youth plaintiffs against governments, arguing that they are infringing on the youths' rights to a stable climate system.[1][2][3][4]


Our Children's Trust, was created by attorney Julia Olson to help formulate legal cases that could be taken against states and the federal government that would charge them with mitigating climate change under the public trust doctrine.[5] Olson established the non-profit with advice and assistance from Mary Christina Wood, director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program at the University of Oregon, who had been studying the concept of the public trust doctrine and established the idea of "Atmospheric Trust Litigation" to take legal action to make governments responsible for actions related to climate change.[6][5] Part of OCT's inspiration was from Oposa's work in the Philippines. Since 2011, OCT has been filing various state and federal lawsuits on behalf of youth, though most of these have been dismissed by courts, as courts generally have not ruled that access to a clean environment is a right that can be litigated against.[7][8][5] Such cases are also generally dismissed as lawsuits cannot be initiated by "generalized grievances", and require plaintiffs with standing to sue and can demonstrate concrete harm that the government has done, and that the courts can at least partially redress the harm by order of the court.[9] Further, cases cannot be brought to court if they deal with a "political question" which cannot be resolved by actions of Congress and the President.[9]

Juliana v. United States[edit]

One of the plaintiffs, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Juliana, et al. v. United States of America, et al. is a lawsuit filed in 2015 that is being brought by 21 youth plaintiffs against the United States and several of its executive branch positions and officers, also formerly including Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama. The plaintiffs, represented by the non-profit organization Our Children's Trust, include Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, the members of Martinez's organization Earth Guardians, and on behalf of future generations represented by climatologist James Hansen. Some fossil fuel and industry groups were also initially named as defendants but were later dropped by a judge at their request.

The lawsuit asserts that the government violated the youths' rights by allowing activities that harmed the climate and sought the government to adopt methods for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The lawsuit is at the leading edge of an area of environmental law referred to as "atmospheric trust litigation", a concept based on the public trust doctrine and international responsibility related to the government's control over natural resources in the interest of public benefit. While previous lawsuits in a similar vein have been dismissed by U.S. Courts, Juliana v. United States gained attention in 2016 when U.S. District Court of Oregon Judge Ann Aiken upheld the idea that access to a clean environment was a fundamental right, allowing the case to proceed. Since then, the government has sought to dismiss the case for various concerns, which has delayed the case's hearing at the district court level. The case was rescheduled for a District Court trial following the Supreme Court's dismissal of the government's request to stay the trial.

The Ninth Circuit scheduled oral argument on the appeal for the week of June 3, 2019 in Portland,[10] and the appeal was ultimately heard on June 4 in front of a different three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit consisting of Mary H. Murguia, Andrew D. Hurwitz, and Josephine Staton (sitting by assignment), all of whom were appointed to the bench by former president Obama.[11]

Some legal experts believed that the interlocutory appeal could end the litigation due to the Supreme Court's already-expressed skepticism. Other experts, such as the director of Columbia University's climate change center, noted that any decision in favor of the plaintiffs likely would be reversed by the Supreme Court, which has been reluctant to declare new rights and which unanimously held in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut that it was not for the courts to decide appropriate levels of pollution.[12]

On January 17, 2020, on a 2-1 vote, the Ninth Circuit panel dismissed the case for lack of Article III standing. Writing for the majority, Judge Hurwitz wrote that "it is beyond the power of an Article III court to order, design, supervise, or implement the plaintiffs' requested remedial plan. As the opinions of their experts make plain, any effective plan would necessarily require a host of complex policy decisions entrusted, for better or worse, to the wisdom and discretion of the executive and legislative branches."[13] In dissent, Judge Staton stated, "Seeking to quash this suit, the government bluntly insists that it has the absolute and unreviewable power to destroy the Nation. My colleagues throw up their hands. . . . No case can singlehandedly prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change predicted by the government and scientists . . . [but] the mere fact that this suit cannot alone halt climate change does not mean that it presents no claim suitable for judicial resolution."[14][15] Lawyers for the plaintiffs stated their intent to appeal this dismissal to the full Ninth Circuit sitting en banc.[13][15]

This material has been copied in part from the case's main article.

Lawsuits against US States[edit]

The following lawsuits have been filed by Our Children's Trust against some U.S. states:[16]


  1. ^ "Mission". Our Children's Trust. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  2. ^ Powell, Andrea. "Meet the Kids Trying to Put the Government on Trial for Its Climate Policies". Pacific Standard. Retrieved 2019-01-06.
  3. ^ "Our Children's Trust Climate Case Delay – Eugene Weekly". Retrieved 2019-01-06.
  4. ^ "Our Children's Trust Case Still Delayed, May Be Appealed – Eugene Weekly". Retrieved 2019-01-06.
  5. ^ a b c Powell, Andrea (October 29, 2018). "Meet The Kids Trying To Put The Government On Trial For Its Climate Policies". Pacific Standard. Retrieved November 18, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ Wood, Mary Christina (2008). "Atmospheric Trust Litigation, in "Climate Change: A Reader" (2011)" (PDF). Carolina Academic Press.
  7. ^ Schwartz, John (October 23, 2018). "Young People Are Suing the Trump Administration Over Climate Change. She's Their Lawyer". The New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Scott, Katy (July 24, 2018). "Can 'climate kids' take on governments and win?". CNN. Retrieved October 23, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ a b Epps, Garrett (October 24, 2018). "The Government Is Trying to Silence 21 Kids Hurt by Climate Change". The Atlantic. Retrieved October 24, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ Docket Order (Feb. 4, 2019)
  11. ^ Schwartz, John (June 4, 2019). "Judges Give Both Sides a Grilling in Youth Climate Case Against the Government". New York Times. Retrieved January 21, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ Ellison, Katherine (May 9, 2012). "An Inconvenient Lawsuit: Teenagers Take Global Warming to the Courts". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 21, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ a b Ivanova, Irana (January 17, 2020). "Kids' climate change lawsuit tossed out by federal appeals court". CBS News. Retrieved January 21, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ Flaccus, Gillian (January 18, 2020). "U.S. court dismisses suit by youths over climate change". The Register-Guard. Retrieved January 21, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ a b Berman, Dan (January 17, 2020). "Appeals court throws out lawsuit by children seeking to force action on climate crisis". CNN. Retrieved January 21, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ "Pending State Actions". Our Children's Trust. Retrieved 2018-11-13.

External links[edit]