Michelle Sanborn
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Community Organizer 

Judge suggests residents could crowdfund to cover costs

NOTTINGHAM, NH: As global carbon dioxide concentrations hit their highest level in 4 million years, New Hampshire Judge Martin Honigberg has rewarded a local corporate actor in Nottingham for opposing a democratically adopted ordinance that recognized a right of townspeople to a “climate system capable of sustaining human societies.” The Freedom from Chemical Trespass Ordinance was passed by voters in 2019 and also secured rights of ecosystems “to naturally exist, flourish, regenerate, evolve, and be restored” and banned corporate activities that infringe those rights.

The June 4, 2021 ruling will force the Town of Nottingham to pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees to a resident plaintiff and his corporate shield, G&F Goods, LLC, which filed a lawsuit against the unenforced Ordinance, arguing it unconstitutionally discriminates against polluting corporations. (The courts agreed with this argument.)

“This ruling is like rewarding the rapist and penalizing the victim,” says CELDF Community Organizer Michelle Sanborn. “Just the mere possibility of a lawsuit against a corporation merits the nullification of the town vote in order to protect capitalism. No such proactive protections from guaranteed exploitation or poisoning are provided to the townspeople or natural environments. Clearly, we cannot look to the courts for climate or social justice.”

The judge ruled that the corporate lawsuit against the popularly adopted ordinance did everyone in the Town a favor and “conferr[ed] a substantial public benefit to Town residents.” Therefore, “on behalf of the public,” the judge ruled Town residents ought to pay the corporation’s attorney fees, even suggesting the Town could raise taxes and receive donations from tax paying residents to cover the cost.

Threats to freshwater systems and climate disruption prompted residents to popularly adopt the Ordinance at their 2019 town hall meeting. “This ruling reveals the judge believes he knows what is best for the townspeople of Nottingham, ignoring the fact that the ‘public’ of Nottingham voted to adopt the rights and protections he overturned,” said Peter White of Nottingham Water Alliance, the local group that championed the ordinance.

Town officials opposed the demand for attorney fees and said the whole “case was entirely unnecessary,” yet refused to defend the direct democracy vote of the people. 

Court documents are available upon request.

See: CELDF Report: Corporations Are Suing Cities Across the USA


About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is helping build a decolonial movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights – building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international levels.

Photo by roman pentin on Unsplash

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