Harvard Students Go to Court Over Climate Change

Harvard students went to court on February 20th to enjoin the Harvard Corporation’s investments in oil, gas, and coal companies. The students, members of the Harvard Climate Justice Coalition, argued in their complaint that these investments violate the University’s public charitable duties. The plaintiffs also brought suit on behalf of future generations, arguing that the Corporation knowingly funds business activities that cause severe and irreparable harm to future generations and that it should therefore be liable in tort. The defendants filed motions to dismiss the complaint, which were the subject of last Friday’s hearing.

The Corporation, represented by counsel from Foley Hoag, argued that principles of fiduciary discretion give it broad latitude to invest in any industry so long as it is profitable to do so, and that all such decisions should be shielded from judicial scrutiny. The plaintiffs appeared pro se, arguing that their special interest in the well being of the university gives them standing to bring their claims. They sought to persuade the judge that the case is inappropriate for resolution through a motion to dismiss. Discussion in the courtroom focused on the standing question and on the extraordinary nature of climate change. The court is expected to issue a ruling in coming weeks. For more information, visit www.divestlawsuit.org.

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