By Karen Savage
ExxonMobil told a federal court that a climate fraud lawsuit filed against it by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong should be dismissed because the company does not sell gas in the state.
“ExxonMobil has not owned or operated service stations (including those branded ‘Exxon’ and ‘Mobil’) in Connecticut since 2011,” the oil giant said in a motion to dismiss filed Friday in U.S. District Court.
Exxon, despite its claims, lists more than 200 “Exxon and Mobil service stations” in Connecticut on its website. The company unsuccessfully attempted to use this same claim—that Exxon stations were actually independent businesses unaffiliated with the oil giant—to invalidate a Massachusetts climate investigation against it.
Tong filed suit in Connecticut state court against the oil giant in September, alleging that Exxon conducted an ongoing, systematic campaign of lies and deception to deceive residents in his state about climate change. The suit alleges several state law violations, including willful violations of Connecticut’s unfair trade practices and consumer protection laws. The company moved the case to federal court in October, but the state is appealing.
Exxon, stating it is incorporated in New Jersey and headquartered in Texas, said, “None of the challenged conduct was undertaken by a Connecticut resident, none of it took place inside Connecticut, and none of it was specifically directed at Connecticut.”
The company contends that “under agreements that govern the use of ExxonMobil’s branding by independent owners and operators, the independent owners of service stations control their own operations, staffing, and sales; ExxonMobil provides only routine support services.”
It also argued that Connecticut’s suit targets alleged actions that took place outside the state.
“The complaint does not allege that any of the challenged conduct—the nationwide advertising, the New York Times advertorials, the underlying climate science research—occurred in Connecticut or specifically targeted Connecticut,” Exxon told the court.
Similar arguments were used by Exxon in an attempt to avoid an investigation by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Those arguments, which unlike these were heard by a state court, failed when the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2018 upheld a lower court’s determination that Healey has jurisdiction over the company.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court determined that franchise agreements in that state conflict with Exxon’s assertion that it does not control franchisee advertising. It also ruled that “through its control over franchisee advertising, Exxon communicates directly with Massachusetts consumers about its fossil fuel products.”
The state’s high court ruled that Massachusetts has jurisdiction because the company’s advertising targets its residents and because Exxon’s website “is accessible in Massachusetts and enables visitors to locate the nearest Exxon-and Mobil-branded service station or retailer.”