Casebook Studies

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The Hawai’i Electric Light Company, Inc. Case

In a bold, unanimous decision, Hawai’i’s highest court issued a landmark decision rejecting a power purchase agreement between the Hawai’i Electric Light Company and an energy company, Hu Honua Bio Energy LLC.

The majority opinion emphasized the constitutional duty on the state of Hawaii to protect the right to a clean and healthy environment. The concurring opinion of Justice Wilson went even further, finding that the right to a clean and healthy environment is subsumed in the due process right to “life, liberty, and property” as well as in “the public trust doctrine,” which requires the conservation and protection of natural resources “for the benefit of present and future generations.” 

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Commune de Grande-Synthe v. France

A coastal municipality in France particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change successfully challenged the federal government’s inaction on climate change. The Conseil d’Etat ordered the federal government to take all necessary actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, on the basis of its domestic and international climate obligations. Since the judgment was issued, the Conseil d’Etat has ordered the federal government to pay two penalty payments in light of its failure to take adequate steps to implement the decision.

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McVeigh v. Retail Employees Superannuation Trust

23-year-old Mark McVeigh sued his superannuation fund, REST, alleging it breached its disclosure obligations and fiduciary duties related to the climate-related financial risks of its investments. After the first day of the three-day trial, the parties settled the case, and REST publicly agreed to a range of new climate-friendly investment commitments. Although the case settled out of court, it was a ground-breaking case, testing the climate-related financial risk and fiduciary duties of retail pension funds in Australia for the first time.  

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O’Donnell v. Commonwealth

In October 2021, the Federal Court of Australia declined to dismiss a novel class action lawsuit brought by a 23-year-old law student alleging that the Australian government misled or deceived sovereign bond investors by failing to disclose the risks of climate change.

The plaintiff’s claim against the Australian government is the first of its kind internationally. If Ms. O’Donnell (the plaintiff) wins, it could have a major impact globally on the way that governments disclose financial risks and on directors and officers across the financial sector.