Federal Judge: Massachusetts Climate Claims Against Exxon Belong in State Court

The state's suit contends Exxon misled the public for decades on the link between fossil fuels and climate change.

by | Mar 17, 2020

A climate fraud lawsuit filed against ExxonMobil by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey belongs in state court, a federal judge ruled at a Tuesday hearing conducted by phone due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In an oral decision first reported by Bloomberg, U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young rejected Exxon’s argument that the lawsuit belongs in federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act because the charges brought by Massachusetts were a type of class action suit.

Young also brushed aside Exxon’s claim that Healey’s suit was part of a larger scheme of “plaintiffs’ attorneys, climate activists, and special interests to force a political and regulatory agenda that has not otherwise materialized through the legislative process.”

“We are glad the federal court has agreed that our case against ExxonMobil belongs in state court,” Chloe Gotsis, spokesperson for Attorney General Healey, said in a statement. “Our office will continue its work to hold this company accountable for its illegal deception of Massachusetts consumers and investors.”

Massachusetts has contended that while Exxon long knew its products drove climate change, the oil giant intentionally misled consumers for decades about the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change, failed to disclose climate-related risks to its investors, and failed to disclose how climate impacts from continued fossil fuel burning would threaten the global economy.

Healy filed the suit in Massachusetts Superior Court last October, following a lengthy investigation. As fossil fuel defendants have in climate change-related suits filed by municipalities across the country, Exxon moved the case, which involves only state law claims, to federal court shortly after it was filed. Federal courts have typically ruled that cases related to climate change should be dismissed because they are best handled by other branches of government.

“We will review the court’s decision and determine next steps,” Casey Norton, a spokesperson for Exxon, said in an email.

This is the second climate change-related lawsuit filed against Exxon by a state attorney general.

After a trial held last year, New York Supreme Court Judge Barry Ostrager ruled that the New York attorney general’s office failed to prove its allegations that Exxon had misled and defrauded investors by misrepresenting climate risks to its business.

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Karen Savage is an investigative journalist who has reported on climate change-related itigation, environmental justice, policing, and other social justice issues. Her work has appeared in Climate Docket, Undark Magazine, In These Times, Project Earth, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Truthout, City Limits, and more. Karen is an alum of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she won the Sidney Hillman Award for Social Justice Reporting.