By Karen Savage
ExxonMobil says a climate fraud lawsuit filed against it by the Massachusetts attorney general is illegal and designed to silence its views on climate change.
Exxon is preparing a motion to dismiss the suit as a SLAPP suit—strategic lawsuits against public participation—after telling the AG’s office in August that the case must be dismissed under Massachusetts’ anti-SLAPP statute. The motion to dismiss, the AG’s opposition brief, and Exxon’s reply, are currently being assembled and filed as a package with the court in December.
SLAPP lawsuits are designed to harass and intimidate those exercising their First Amendment rights. They are most often filed by corporations or other powerful entities in an attempt to silence activists, consumers, community advocates and journalists. Many states have passed laws prohibiting such suits, because those being sued often lack the resources to defend themselves against wealthy corporations.
Under Massachusetts’ law, defendants who file motions to dismiss under the state’s anti-SLAPP law are entitled to have their motion heard as quickly as possible. More importantly in this instance, the motion automatically halts the discovery process until the court has ruled on the motion.
“For more than four years, Exxon has made repeated attempts to stonewall my office’s efforts to seek the truth about Exxon’s climate deception and enforce our state law protecting consumers and investors— and this meritless motion is no different,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement.
Healey filed suit in 2019, alleging Exxon has known for decades that its products drive climate change, but misled consumers and investors in order to bolster its own profits. The AG says Exxon used deceptive advertising, failed to disclose climate-related risks to its investors and failed to disclose how catastrophic climate impacts from continued fossil fuel burning could threaten the global economy. Healey amended the suit earlier this year, accusing the oil giant of continuing to deceive shareholders about future demand for its products.
Exxon’s argument that it is a SLAPP suit is the latest in a long string of attempts by the company to wrangle free from the case, which was filed after a three-year investigation that began in 2016.
Shortly after the AG’s investigation began, Exxon filed a lawsuit against Healey and then-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was also investigating the company. The company alleged the AGs’ inquiries were politically motivated and violated its First, Fourth and Fourteenth amendment rights. A federal judge deemed the company’s claims “implausible,” and dismissed the suit in 2018.
In a separate proceeding, Exxon asked a Massachusetts court to stop the investigation, contending that it was political and discriminated against the company due to its “view” on climate change. That petition was dismissed in January 2017 by Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Heidi E. Brieger, who ruled that “zealously” pursuing defendants does not make Healey’s actions improper. Brieger’s decision was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2018 and last year the U.S. Supreme Court denied Exxon’s request to review the ruling.
Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Healey appears unfazed by Exxon’s latest bid to shake the case and said she is eager for the case to proceed.
“We will continue to pursue our case in court to hold this company accountable for deceiving Massachusetts consumers about the dire climate consequences caused by its fossil fuel products and Massachusetts investors about the massive risk that climate change poses to the company’s business and our global economy,” she said.