By Karen Savage
ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and Koch Industries say Minnesota’s climate fraud lawsuit filed against them belongs in federal court.
In a brief filed Monday, the defendants rolled out many of the same arguments for federal jurisdiction that have so far failed to convince courts in dozens of similar cases around the country.
The API and the companies argue that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is trying to “use Minnesota law as a vehicle to force defendants to discontinue or reduce their extraction, production, promotion, and sale of fossil fuels around the world.”
Ellison, emphasizing that his case centers on consumer fraud, not emissions, said the defendants are misrepresenting the case.
“This case does not seek to limit the extraction of fossil fuels or otherwise regulate greenhouse-gas emissions,” Ellison wrote in a brief filed in September arguing that the case should be heard in state court, where it was filed in June.
The defendants contend Ellison’s complaint contradicts that position.
“By ‘seek[ing]’ to ensure that Defendants ‘bear the costs’ of alleged climate change injuries, and to recover both fines and restitution for all alleged climate change injuries purportedly suffered by the state of Minnesota, the attorney general cannot plausibly deny that its lawsuit seeks to curtail the worldwide production and sale of fossil fuels,” Exxon attorneys, who represented all the defendants, wrote in the brief, adding that Minnesota is a “prodigious consumer and user of fossil fuels.”
Ellison has emphasized that Minnesota’s suit is not an attempt to hold the companies accountable for climate change itself, but is attempting to hold the companies accountable for deceptive trade practices and false advertising for their decades-long deception about their role in climate change
The state is seeking damages for harm and an injunction to stop the companies from further deception. The AG also wants the court to order the companies to fund a campaign to educate the public about the risks their products pose to the climate and to make all of their climate change-related research available to the public.
Following a now-predictable pattern that has played out in dozens of cases filed against fossil fuel entities by municipalities across the country, the defendants moved the case to federal court shortly after it was filed.
The defendants want the cases heard in federal court, where they think they have a better chance of getting them dismissed. Thus far, the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth circuits have upheld lower court rulings that the cases belong in state courts, where nearly all have been filed alleging violations of state laws.
The Supreme Court has agreed to review a technicality in Baltimore’s case, however that issue involves which arguments appellate courts are authorized to review, not the merits of those arguments nor the merits of the municipalities’ claims.
Lawsuits, particularly those filed by AGs, typically involve state law claims and are heard in state court. Exxon has argued that a similar case filed against it by Massachusetts AG Maura Healey belongs in federal court, but that contention was rejected in March. A fraud case filed against Exxon by the New York attorney general’s office went to trial in state court last year, but the state failed to prove its case.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that state court is the proper venue to hear Rhode Island’s climate liability lawsuit against Exxon, BP, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips and awarded the state costs associated with the appeal.
In a footnote, API, Exxon and Koch Industries argued in the filing that similar costs—which Minnesota is seeking—are unwarranted.