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Environment & Energy Report

Exxon Bumps Massachusetts Climate Change Case to Federal Court

Dec. 2, 2019, 5:06 PM

A high-stakes climate change lawsuit from Massachusetts’s top lawyer is now in federal court after Exxon Mobil Corp. bumped the case from state jurisdiction, arguing that it wades into “complex federal statutory, regulatory, and constitutional issues and frameworks.”

State Attorney General Maura Healey (D) filed the case in the Superior Court of Suffolk County in October, accusing the oil giant of misleading investors and consumers about the impacts of climate change.

But Exxon on Nov. 29 moved the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, arguing that Healey was using state-level law enforcement authority as a pretext to advance a political agenda.

The state’s lawsuit, Exxon argued, “is the culmination of a multi-year plan concocted by plaintiffs’ attorneys, climate activists, and special interests to force a political and regulatory agenda that has not otherwise materialized through the legislative process.”

A defendant can move a case to federal court when it raises claims under federal law. If a plaintiff thinks the case should be returned to state court, they can argue for a federal judge to remand it.

Healey’s office said it plans to ask the federal court to return the case to state court.

Federal Claims

Though the lawsuit’s allegations arise under the state’s consumer protection law, Exxon says the case involves cross-state pollution issues that belong in federal court. That’s a critical point of argument for the company, as Supreme Court precedent says the Clean Air Act preempts federal common law claims related to greenhouse gas emissions.

Exxon also argues that Healey’s case is “in essence” an attempted class action that has “significant interstate ramifications” that must be decided in federal court.

Healey filed the case under the Massachusetts consumer protection law. New York filed a similar case against Exxon in 2018 under that state’s Martin Act, an anti-fraud securities law. The New York case went to trial in state court in October.

Exxon has also fought for a separate set of climate cases—which accuse fossil fuel producers of negligence, trespass, creating a public nuisance, and other claims—to be heard in federal court instead of state court.

The case is Massachusetts v. Exxon Mobil Corp., D. Mass., No. 1:19-cv-12430, notice of removal 11/29/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergenvironment.com