The Massachusetts Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected ExxonMobil’s bid to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Maura Healey, alleging that the company knew its products were contributing to dangerous changes in the climate yet hid that information from Massachusetts consumers and investors.
ExxonMobil claimed it should be shielded from the case by a state law that protects defendants from politically motivated lawsuits that seek to censor or silence their views. But in a major blow to the oil company, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court voted 7-0 that the law “does not apply” to Healey’s case.
“Today’s ruling is a resounding victory in our work to stop Exxon from lying to investors and consumers in our state,” Healey said in an emailed statement.
The decision means that Exxon will have to stand trial in the state. A trial date has not yet been scheduled, but it is set to take place after the discovery process concludes in July 2024.
Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, an environmental organization focused on climate law, applauded the ruling.
“Attorney General Healey is poised to make history, making Massachusetts the first state to force Exxon to face the evidence of its climate fraud and deception in state court,” he told the Globe in an email.
Healey, who is now running for Massachusetts governor, launched the lawsuit in 2019 after a three-year probe into the company’s actions. Two months ago, ExxonMobil also lost a bid to revive a lawsuit claiming that both Massachusetts and New York’s attorneys general had political motivations for opening such investigations into the company.
In 2018, Massachusetts’ Supreme Court also dismissed Exxon’s bid to avoid complying with a civil investigative demand that came as part of Healey’s investigation.
“Exxon’s repeated attempts to stonewall our lawsuit have been baseless, and this effort was no different,” Healey said in a statement on Tuesday.
Documents uncovered by InsideClimate News and other outlets show that Exxon scientists knew as early as the 1970s that the use of fossil fuels, which form the base of the company’s business model, cause global warming, and that the company launched a coordinated public relations campaign to sow doubt about that finding.
Across the nation, seven state attorneys general and over one dozen local governments have sued ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel giants for allegedly hiding the dangers of burning fossil fuels. Healey’s lawsuit has progressed the farthest of any of the pending cases.
The first of the state-level cases was brought by Rhode Island in 2018. On Monday, a federal appeals court delivered another blow to the defendants in that suit, including ExxonMobil, ruling that the case can proceed in state court, where it was originally filed.