Chernaik v. Kitzhaber

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Court of Appeals
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 06-11-2014
  • Case #: A151856
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Hadlock, P.J. for the Court; DeVore, J.; & Schuman, S.J.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, a complaint can be justiciable when it seeks a judicially issued declaration regarding duties that the state may have under a legal doctrine.

Chernaik sued the State of Oregon and Governor John Kitzhaber (Kitzhaber) for declaratory and equitable relief, claiming that under the public trust doctrine Kitzhaber has a fiduciary obligation to hold vital natural resources in trust for the benefit of their citizens. The complaint sought to require Kitzhaber to account for, to develop, and to implement a plan to reduce carbon emissions. Chernaik contended that Kitzhaber’s failure to protect such resources from the effects of climate change is a breach of their fiduciary duty. Kitzhaber moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the trial court lacked the authority to grant requested relief. The trial court granted that motion. On appeal, Kitzhaber argued that the requested declarations were not justiciable under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act because they would not explicitly require the state to do anything, and that the trial court could not order further injunctive relief without violating the separation-of-powers and political questions doctrines. The Court held Chernaik’s claims were judiciable under the public trust doctrine because it must be assumed that the state will act in accordance with a judicially issued declaration regarding the scope of any duties that the state may have under such doctrine. The Court declined to address the plaintiffs’ separation-of-powers and political question arguments, finding that those questions could not be addressed until a court declares the scope of defendants’ obligations, if any, under the public trust doctrine. Reversed and remanded.

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