Judge: Mass. Exxon lawsuit is a state matter

Source: By Jennifer Hijazi, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, May 31, 2020

In its bid to bring the case to a federal bench, Exxon Mobil Corp. failed to show how Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s (D) climate lawsuit raised claims that are federal in nature, wrote Judge William Young of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

“The Commonwealth’s well-pleaded complaint pleads only state law claims, which are not completely preempted by federal law and do not harbor an embedded federal question,” Young, a Reagan appointee, wrote in an opinion that followed an earlier decision to send the case back to state court (Climatewire, March 18).

“Contrary to the defendant’s assertions, the statutory grants of federal jurisdiction for cases involving federal officers or for class actions do not apply here.”

Massachusetts’ lawsuit accuses the oil giant of misleading both consumers and investors about the climate risks of fossil fuel products.

The Bay State’s challenge follows, but raises slightly different arguments from, a similar plea that failed last year in a New York court (Climatewire, Dec. 11, 2019).

Exxon moved Massachusetts’ case to federal district court after Healey filed last fall in Suffolk County Superior Court.

Industry attorneys have argued in various climate disputes that global warming is an issue that should fall to federal courts, where companies might have an easier time quashing challenges.

Judges across the country have found that the claims — in either consumer protection cases or in attempts to secure industry compensation for climate impacts — are more appropriately placed in state courts.

“The Court concludes that the ‘problem’ at issue in this complaint is not geophysical but economic — namely, has ExxonMobil been sufficiently candid with its investors and customers in Massachusetts about the simmering calamity of global warming?” Young wrote.

“That question is properly for the courts of the Commonwealth to decide.”