Exxon Bid to Halt Massachusetts Climate Case Denied by Judge

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A Massachusetts judge said Exxon Mobil Corp. must face the state’s lawsuit accusing the energy company of misleading investors and consumers about the impact of climate change on its business and products.

Exxon’s motion to dismiss the 2019 lawsuit by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was denied by Associate Justice Karen Green in Boston, who ruled the state had properly laid out its claims and that it was too soon to say if the company’s statements about climate change amount to protected speech.

“At this stage, the Commonwealth’s allegations are sufficient to state a claim that Exxon was engaged in trade or commerce when it made the allegedly deceptive statements to Massachusetts investors,” the judge wrote.

The company had argued last year that the suit should be dismissed because it violates a state law prohibiting litigation that has the effect of punishing a defendant for statements on public policy matters. Exxon also said its statements about the impact of climate change on its finances were opinions rather than statements of fact and therefore couldn’t have misled investors.

But the judge, in a ruling dated Tuesday, said Healey’s allegations were sufficient for the suit to move forward.

“Today’s rulings represent a significant step forward for my office’s work to hold Exxon accountable for lying to Massachusetts consumers about the climate harms of using its fossil fuel products and to Massachusetts investors about the negative impact of climate change on the value of its business,” Healey, a Democrat and longtime advocate for tackling climate change, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“This case lacks merit and we look forward to defending the company,” Exxon spokesman Casey Norton said in an email. “We are reviewing the court’s opinion and considering next steps.”

The suit alleges Exxon hid its early knowledge of climate change and misled investors in Massachusetts about the projected financial impact of global warming on its business. It also accuses Exxon of misleading consumers by suggesting in marketing materials that some of its gasoline and motor oil products were good for the environment.

The lawsuit is one of many targeting Exxon and other energy companies over their public statements about climate change over the years, though it stands out by alleging violations of state consumer protection and investor protection laws. Most of the other cases focus on so-called public nuisance claims, some of which have been dismissed and are on appeal.

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