Federal Court Rejects Exxon’s Attempt to Halt Climate Change Investigations

An ExxonMobil refinery
ExxonMobil's refinery in Joliet, Illinois. Ann Fisher / Flickr

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court denied ExxonMobil’s attempt to stop the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts from investigating whether the company lied about its knowledge of climate change.

The decision was handed down by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, which said Exxon couldn’t sue Massachusetts’ Attorney General Maura Healey because it was already doing so in the state court system, as reported by Reuters.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected a 2018 lawsuit Exxon had filed against New York, claiming the state violated the company’s rights for its investigations.

ExxonMobil first sued New York and Massachusetts in 2016, when it received subpoenas for shareholder communications and documents related to climate change. The company has since tried to prevent the two states from moving forward with the investigation.

“During the pendency of this appeal, the New York Attorney General closed the New York investigation and commenced an enforcement action, which resolved in Exxon’s favor and is not being appealed by the state. Because these events have mooted Exxon’s claims against the New York Attorney General, we lack jurisdiction over those claims,” the court explained in its decision. “As to Exxon’s claims against the Massachusetts Attorney General, Exxon could have pursued the relief it now seeks in an earlier Massachusetts state court proceeding arising from the same events that underlie the present suit; its claims against the Massachusetts Attorney General are thus barred under the doctrine of res judicata.”

The oil giant wanted to appeal the lower court decisions to revive the case, ultimately to have its documents that had been given to New York for the state investigation either returned or destroyed. The new decision stops Exxon’s attempt to prevent these investigations.

“We are pleased with the Second Circuit’s decision today, which rejected Exxon Mobil’s baseless attempts to challenge state law enforcement efforts,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said. “We will continue our efforts to protect New York consumers and investors from any harm or deceit.”

Chloe Gotsis, spokeswoman for Healey, said their office looks forward to obtaining the required documents and continuing the investigation.

This is just one of many lawsuits Exxon has been facing, as it has tried to minimize how its fossil fuel products impact climate change to boost profits and assure investors.

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