Description: Action by Massachusetts attorney general asserting that Exxon Mobil Corporation committed deceptive practices against Massachusetts investors and consumers, including by failing to disclose climate change risks.
Commonwealth v. Exxon Mobil Corp.
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 06/22/2021 Memorandum of Decision Download Motion to dismiss denied. Massachusetts Court Declined to Dismiss Massachusetts Investor and Consumer Protection Action Against Exxon. In two decisions, a Massachusetts Superior Court denied Exxon Mobil Corporation’s (Exxon’s) motions to dismiss an action brought by the Massachusetts Attorney General asserting that Exxon systematically and intentionally misled investors and consumers about climate change. In the first decision, the court declined to dismiss the action on personal jurisdiction grounds or for failure to state a claim. With respect to personal jurisdiction, the court found that the Commonwealth sufficiently alleged that its investor deception claim arose from Exxon’s contacts with Massachusetts. Regarding the consumer deception claims, the court found that the claims arose from Exxon’s advertisements through its Massachusetts franchisees, and that the court therefore could assert personal jurisdiction over Exxon based on the Supreme Judicial Court’s previous determination that Exxon’s franchise network of retail service stations satisfied the “transacting any business” prong of the Massachusetts personal jurisdiction statute. The court also found that the exercise of jurisdiction over Exxon satisfied the Massachusetts long-arm statute and due process requirements. In rejecting Exxon’s arguments that Massachusetts failed to state a claim, the court found that Massachusetts’s allegations regarding statements to investors that climate change risks did not pose a meaningful threat were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. The court rejected Exxon’s characterization of the allegations as based on failures to disclose information readily available to the public. The court also found that the allegations plausibly alleged that Exxon deliberatively misrepresented and omitted information about the risks of climate change and that Exxon was engaged in trade or commerce when it made the allegedly deceptive statements. The court also found that the Commonwealth’s deceptive advertising claims did not have to be based on allegations that Exxon’s representations about particular fuel products were false, only that the representations were misleading. In addition, the court found that it could not conclude at this stage of the litigation that Exxon’s representations would not mislead a “reasonable consumer”; the court also was not persuaded by Exxon’s argument that the claims involved a “pure omission” not subject to liability. Regarding the Commonwealth’s “greenwashing” claims, the court concluded that it would not be appropriate to determine at the motion to dismiss stage whether the alleged misrepresentations were “inactionable puffery.” The court also declined to rule at this stage on whether any of the allegedly misleading statements to investors and customers constituted speech protected by the First Amendment. 06/22/2021 Memorandum of Decision Download Special motion to dismiss pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute denied. In the second decision, the court denied Exxon’s special motion to dismiss under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) statute. The court found that Exxon failed to meet the threshold burden of showing that the Commonwealth claims were based on “petitioning activity” protected by the anti-SLAPP law. The court was not persuaded by Exxon’s contentions that its statements to investors were issued in a manner likely to reach or influence regulators and members of the public, and that its allegedly deceptive statements about its products constituted advocacy of climate policy choices and attempts to enlist public participation in policy debate. The court found that Exxon did not show that it made the statements “solely, or even primarily, to influence, inform, or reach any governmental body, directly or indirectly. Instead, the statements appear to be directed at influencing investors to retain or purchase Exxon’s securities or inducing consumers to purchase Exxon’s products and thereby increase its profits.” 07/30/2020 Notice Notice filed of intent to file a motion to dismiss. Exxon to Seek Dismissal of Massachusetts Lawsuit Under Anti-SLAPP Law. Exxon Mobil Corporation filed a notice in a Massachusetts state court indicating that it would seek to dismiss the Massachusetts Attorney General’s lawsuit asserting that Exxon’s failure to disclose climate change risks deceived investors and consumers. Exxon will seek to dismiss the suit under the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) law. 06/05/2020 Complaint Amended complaint filed. 10/24/2019 Complaint Download Complaint filed. Massachusetts Attorney General Launched Enforcement Action Against Exxon for Allegedly Misleading Investors and Consumers. On October 24, 2019, the Massachusetts attorney general filed a complaint in Massachusetts Superior Court asserting that Exxon Mobil Corporation (Exxon) committed deceptive practices against Massachusetts investors and consumers by failing to disclose climate change risks, misrepresenting its business practices related to use of proxy costs of carbon, misleadingly advertising its products, failing to disclose its products’ impacts on climate change, and engaging in greenwashing campaigns. The complaint said Exxon’s actions and practices violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. The attorney general seeks injunctive relief, penalties, the costs investigation, and attorneys’ fees. Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, the Superior Court denied an emergency motion by Exxon for an extension of time in which to initiate a meet-and-confer with the attorney general’s office. Exxon reportedly argued that it had a right to confer in person and that it could not do so until November due to its attorneys’ involvement in the ongoing trial in the New York attorney general’s fraud action against Exxon. 10/15/2019 Letter Download Letter sent to ExxonMobil by Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General responding to ExxonMobil's October 14, 2019 letter. 10/14/2019 Letter Download Letter sent to Office of the Attorney General on behalf of Exxon Mobil Corporation concerning October 10, 2019 letter stating intent to commence a civil action against ExxonMobil. 10/10/2019 Letter Download Letter sent to Exxon Mobil Corporation by the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General providing notice that the attorney general intended to commence an enforcement action against ExxonMobil.
Massachusetts v. Exxon Mobil Corp.
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 05/28/2020 Memorandum of Decision Download Memorandum issued explicating the court's rationale for remand. Massachusetts Federal Court Provided Rationale for Sending Climate Change-Based Fraud Case Against Exxon Back to State Court. The federal district court for the District of Massachusetts issued a decision explaining the rationale for its March 18, 2020 order remanding Massachusetts’s fraud case against Exxon Mobil Corporation (Exxon) to state court. In its lawsuit, Massachusetts asserts causes of action under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act based on allegations that Exxon knew for decades that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels were contributing to climate change, that Exxon downplayed the risks of climate change, and that Exxon deceived investors and consumers with misrepresentations concerning the company’s products and its management of climate change risks. The district court found that Massachusetts’s well-pleaded complaint pleaded only state law claims, “which are not completely preempted by federal law and do not harbor an embedded federal question.” In doing so, the court rejected Exxon’s contention that federal common law governed and completely preempted state law claims; the court found that the complaint’s allegations were “far afield of any ‘uniquely federal interests.’” The court also rejected Exxon’s arguments that the federal-officer removal statute or the Class Action Fairness Act provided a basis for jurisdiction. 03/18/2020 Order Download Action remanded to state court. Massachusetts Federal Court Denied Exxon Remand Motion in Massachusetts Attorney General’s Climate Consumer Protection Action. During a telephonic hearing on March 17, 2020, the federal district court for the District of Massachusetts denied Exxon Mobil Corporation’s motion to remand the Massachusetts attorney general’s consumer protection action alleging a failure to disclose climate risks and misleading marketing of products. The court reportedly said that this was “not a case where the issue is in any substantial doubt.” The judge indicated he would issue a written opinion at a later date. The court denied Exxon’s request that it stay the order pending appeal. 01/09/2020 Opposition Download Opposition filed by Exxon Mobil Corporation to motion for remand. 12/26/2019 Motion Download Memorandum of law filed by Massachusetts in support of its motion for remand to the Massachusetts Superior Court for Suffolk County. Massachusetts Asked Federal Court to Send Consumer Protection Action Against Exxon Back to State Court. On December 26, 2019, Massachusetts moved to remand its action against Exxon Mobil Corporation under the State’s consumer protection law back to state court. Massachusetts asserted that its complaint focused solely on alleged violations of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act and did not raise any federal claims. The attorney general argued that all of Exxon’s bases for removal were “implausible” and had no support in law or fact not only because the complaint alleged only violations of a single state law but also because the claims did not require the disposition of any federal issue, did not arise under federal common law, did not involve action by Exxon taken under the direction of a federal officer or agency, and did not constitute a “class action” under the Class Action Fairness Act. The attorney general also said the federal court should ignore Exxon’s allegations of conspiracy—which the attorney general characterized as “unsupported innuendo”—as a basis for removal and instead focus on the “four corners” of the complaint. 11/29/2019 Notice Download Notice of removal filed. Exxon Said Massachusetts Climate Change Enforcement Action Belonged in Federal Court. On November 29, 2019, Exxon Mobil Corporation removed Massachusetts’s enforcement action alleging that Exxon misled investors and consumers regarding climate change risks and its products’ impacts on climate change to federal district court in Massachusetts. Exxon contended that the Massachusetts attorney general—in conjunction with “plaintiffs’ attorneys, climate activists, and special interests”—was engaged in a plan “to force a political and regulatory agenda that has not otherwise materialized through the legislative process.” Exxon said the enforcement action was not properly brought under state law and instead sought “to wade into complex federal statutory, regulatory, and constitutional issues and frameworks, and to substitute one state’s judgment for that of longstanding decisions by the federal government about national and international energy policy and environmental protection.” Exxon asserted that it was necessary for the case to be heard in federal court because the Commonwealth’s claims necessarily raised disputed and substantial issues concerning international climate change policy and the balance between environmental policy and economic development. In addition, Exxon argued that the case arose under federal common law because it was “inherently premised on interstate pollution that causes environmental harm in the form of global warming” and therefore implicated “uniquely federal interests and should be governed by federal common law.” In addition, Exxon said the case satisfied the requirements of the federal officer removal statute because federal officials directed Exxon to engage in the extraction and production of fossil fuels, the activities that “constitute the crux” of the State’s complaint. In addition, Exxon asserted that the case qualified for removal under the Class Action Fairness Act.