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Judge Says Kids' Climate Lawsuit Is For Florida Politicians To Decide

8 young people who are suing the state over climate change inaction sit on the Miami Dade Courthouse steps.
Robin Loznak/Our Children’s Trust
The 8 plaintiffs pose at the Miami Dade County Courthouse on the day their climate lawsuit was filed in April 2018.

In a series of lawsuits filed around the country, kids are suing state governments over climate change inaction. A lawsuit against the state of Florida was dismissed this week by a Leon County circuit judge.

In the case known as Reynolds v. the State of Florida, Judge Kevin Carroll ruled against the eight young plaintiffs. He said their legal counsel made a compelling argument, but it was out of his purview.

“What I do think is that I am being asked to solve a political question, and I do think that the separation of powers gets in the mix here,” said Carroll during a virtual hearing. He encouraged an appeal of his ruling, saying the higher court will determine whether he’s right about this being an issue for elected leaders to handle.

“The judge said essentially ‘I think this is a political problem and is not one that is well suited for judicial intervention.’ But in making that ruling, the judge has to essentially agree that our facts are all true and that we do have an otherwise valid claim," says Tampa attorney Guy Burns, co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit is more than 2 years old. The plaintiffs now range in age from 12 to 22. They allege the state is violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They say state leaders are causing harm by perpetuating an energy system based on fossil fuels – and not doing enough to mitigate climate change.

“These kids just want to have their voices heard in the courtroom," says Andrea Rodgers, an attorney with Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit law firm that brought the case on behalf of the plaintiffs. “Most of them are too young to vote, and the political branches have had a significant amount of time to try to address these issues.” Rodgers says Florida leaders have known about the negative effects of climate change for decades.

The plaintiffs are scattered around the state. 17-year-old Valholly Frank lives in the Broward County town of Weston. She grew up on the nearby Big Cypress Reservation. Her dad is on the Seminole Tribe’s board of directors and her mom is active in environmental causes.

The 21 plaintiffs, many of whom are minors, say government policies infringe on their rights. "We need to as a country, do much bigger things," Leigh-Ann Draheim, the mother of one plaintiff said.

"My mother, she was reached out to by a woman named Susan Glickman, and Susan asked if she knew any native youth who’d like to be part of a climate lawsuit in the state of Florida, and my mother was like, yeah I think I know a few, and she asked me if I wanted to be part of this lawsuit," says Frank. "I went and I researched it, and I looked up some other similar ones, and I said yes.” Susan Glickman is the Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a longtime climate activist who knows Frank’s mother from their work on previous causes.

This case is named for 20-year-old Delaney Reynolds from Miami. She decided to sue the state after reading about the federal climate lawsuit known as Juliana v. United States. She was joined by a fellow activist from Gainesville - they met at an environmental meeting - then a second Gainesville activist read about their cause and joined in.

Now they have 8 members and the support of Judge Kevin Carroll, despite his ruling. “I think that they are legitimate. I think that it is tremendous that they are engaged at this point in their life," Carroll said in issuing his ruling. "I’d like to tell you that I was that civic-minded when I was their age, and that just would not be true.”

Attorneys for Our Children’s Trust say they will appeal.