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Court orders Exxon Mobil to hand over documents in probe of climate-change lying

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that Exxon Mobil has to hand over documents demanded by Attorney General Maura Healey in a probe of whether the company not only sat on information that proved the role of fossil fuels in climate change but actively tried to discredit the science of climate change to preserve its profits.

The ruling may not force the company to hand over the requested documents immediately, because it also has a pending case against Healey in a federal court in Texas.

The oil giant had argued it was not subject to the state's consumer-protection law, under which Healey sought the documents to look at whether the company's alleged deceit harmfully misled Massachusetts consumers, because it was not a Massachusetts "resident" - it is not headquartered or incorporated here and most of its business is done outside the state.

But the state's highest court ruled that the law - which bars "deceptive" practices - covers Exxon Mobil by extension of the state's "long-arm statute," which allows actions here against non-resident companies if they do business with Massachusetts consumers or business. The court noted Exxon Mobile has some 300 gas-station franchises in Massachusetts, which are bound by an extensive franchise agreement written by the company - which gives Exxon Mobile ultimate control over any marketing or advertising those franchisees might do.

This leads to our conclusion that the [AG's document demand] "aris[es] from" the BFA and Exxon's network of branded fuel stations in Massachusetts. G. L. c. 223A, § 3 (a). Through its control over franchisee advertising, Exxon communicates directly with Massachusetts consumers about its fossil fuel products (and hence we reject Exxon's assertion that it "has no direct contact with any consumers in Massachusetts"). This control comports with one of Exxon's "primary business purpose[s]" as expressed in section 13(a) of the [franchise agreement]: "to optimize effective and efficient . . . representation of [Exxon- and Mobil-branded fuel] through planned market and image development." The [AG's demand] seeks information about the nature and extent of Exxon's Massachusetts advertisements, including those disseminated through Exxon's franchisees.

The court continued:

Exxon has purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting business activities in Massachusetts, with both consumers and other businesses. As mentioned, Exxon is the franchisor of over 300 Exxon- and Mobil-branded service stations located throughout Massachusetts, and through that arrangement Exxon controls the marketing of its products to Massachusetts consumers. In addition, Exxon admits that it created Massachusetts-specific advertisements for its products in print and radio. Such "advertising in the forum State," especially when coupled with its extensive franchise network, is indicative of Exxon's "intent or purpose to serve the market in the forum State."

The court added it disagrees with the company's assertion that its Massachusetts franchisees "have nothing to do with climate change," at least in terms of letting the Attorney General investigate the climate-change documentation issue:

In order to determine whether Exxon engaged in deceptive advertising at its franchisee stations, by either giving a misleading impression or failing to disclose material information about climate change, the Attorney General must first ascertain what Exxon knew about that topic.

The court also slapped down the company's request that Healey be barred from making the request because she's so obviously biased against it, based on comments she made at a press conference that she is troubled by the company's apparent lying. Exxon Mobile said this violates a state law barring a lawyer from making "prejudicial statements to the public concerning an ongoing investigation."

Nice try, but no, the justices said, because Healey is not just a lawyer, she's also an elected official:

The Attorney General is authorized to investigate what she believes to be violations of [the consumer-protection law]. As an elected official, it is reasonable that she routinely informs her constituents of the nature of her investigations.

PDF icon Complete Exxon Mobil ruling145.92 KB


Maura Healey? She just don't give a fuck.

Voting closed 87

Than our last AG. I'd vote her in for Gov'nah if she wants the job at some point.

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I would love to see her replace the walking corpse that calls himself Ed Markey.

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Shirley, you jest. You mean a grand-stand vs. the tobacco cos (who we already shook down) while pretending to be acting on behalf of shareholders who live in Mass isn't a clear enough sign?

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Exxon's response will be at least 1 tractor-trailer load of paper to go through, but I predict even more.

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When you have something to hide, you never want to go with the too much information ruse - it may give away too many other things that become a matter of public record.

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Automated, mechanised OCR makes it hard for that gambit to work the way it used to.

Voting closed 53

Remember when their tanker Exxon Valdez slimed Prince William Sound? If you do, you probably remember the huge fines that were imposed on them. If you didn't keep following the story, you probably don't know how very little of that fine they wound up actually paying. Instead of paying the fines Exxon invested in lawyers, appealing the fines over and over again until they were reduced to a tiny fraction of the original numbers. The cleanup has still not been completed. Meanwhile, Exxon is one of the most profitable businesses in the world, which paid no taxes on all that profit for at least some of those years.

Do everybody a favor, and buy your gas somewhere else.

Voting closed 15

at fair trade certified and organically farmed gas stations? Like a BP?

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I find increasingly truobling than that the elected top law enforcement officer in Mass. is so much more concerned with "climate change" than with the ordinary,run of the mill corruption to be found in the Great and General Court.
Cop killers released early,junkies and flunkies running the State Crime Lab,Cops run amok,thuggish unionistas running an extiortion racket in the local tv/film industry,politicians and assorted officers of the court fixing tickets/cases,influence peddling,sex harrassment etc.,etc.,etc.
Hello Maura,yeah over here,right under your nose..

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Protect the MA consumers.

AG has a specific role. The instances you mention might not fall within their grasp. Will check.

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I find increasingly truobling than that the elected top law enforcement officer in Mass. is so much more concerned with "climate change" than with the ordinary,run of the mill corruption to be found in the Great and General Court.

Where is your evidence that she is more concerned with this than with the other? For all you know, she may be quietly building a case to send the entire legislature to jail. As an adult, she's able to care about more than one thing at a time.

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No one but oil companies do climate science, so something was being hidden from the public.

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No one but oil companies do climate science

Lots of other organizations do climate science. For instance:

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Monday released a report asserting decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. It also predicted rising demand for military disaster responses as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises.

They apparently didn't believe the oil industry.

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