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#ExxonKnew sign in NYC in 2019

Climate activists protest on the first day of the ExxonMobil trial outside the New York State Supreme Court building on October 22, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

State Court Ruling Called 'Big Step' Toward Holding ExxonMobil Accountable

"By clearing this hurdle, the people of Massachusetts are now one step closer to finally having their rightful day in court, where Exxon will have to answer for its campaign of deception."

Jessica Corbett

Climate activists and elected officials working to make ExxonMobil and other fossil fuels companies pay for decades sowing public doubt about climate science while causing a global emergency are celebrating a Massachusetts court's refusal to dismiss a case against the oil giant.

"This ruling shows that it won't be easy for Exxon to escape justice in the growing number of lawsuits seeking to hold the company accountable for lying about climate change," said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI), in a statement Thursday.

ExxonMobil had sought the dismissal of a suit filed in October 2019 by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who accused the company of deceiving the commonwealth's consumers and investors "about the dangerous climate harms caused by its oil and gasoline products and the significant risks of climate change—and efforts to address it—to Exxon's business."

Late Wednesday, Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Karen Green denied (pdf) ExxonMobil's motion to dismiss "for lack of personal jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted."

Green also rejected (pdf) a dismissal request that cited a Massachusetts statute on strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), or cases filed as a silencing tactic.

"Climate change indisputably is a topic that has attracted government attention," the judge wrote. "It is apparent from the context in which they were made that many Exxon statements referenced in the complaint are not protected."

Despite the legal setback, a spokesperson made clear that ExxonMobil will keep fighting, telling The Hill that "the case lacks merit, and we look forward to defending the company. We are reviewing the court's opinion and considering next steps."

Healey, meanwhile, welcomed Green's pair of rulings, declaring that "this is a big step for our work to hold Exxon accountable for lying about climate change."

The attorney general charged that ExxonMobil's efforts to mislead investors about fossil fuels continue, adding that "it's time they are held accountable."

Over two dozen state and local governments across the United States have brought climate liability lawsuits against oil and gas majors including ExxonMobil since 2017.

"Courts across the country have agreed that these cases should proceed in state court, despite protests from the fossil fuel industry," noted Wiles of CCI, an independent nonprofit that was previously a project of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

According to the group, the Massachusetts case is "the first of its kind to survive a motion to dismiss, bringing it one step closer to becoming the first of more than 20 similar climate liability lawsuits against Exxon to reach trial in state court."

Wiles said that "by clearing this hurdle, the people of Massachusetts are now one step closer to finally having their rightful day in court, where Exxon will have to answer for its campaign of deception."

ExxonMobil faces similar allegations of consumer fraud from the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia.

The company is also under pressure from shareholders, who earlier this year elected three people backed by a climate-focused activist investment firm to ExxonMobil's board of directors.

This piece has been updated with details about the Center for Climate Integrity's connection to the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.


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