Massachusetts court rules in favor of attorney general in Exxon climate change case

Massachusetts’ top court on April 13, 2018 rejected Exxon Mobil Corp’s bid to block Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey from obtaining records to investigate the company. CREDIT: John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

ExxonMobil Corp. lost its bid to block Massachusetts’ attorney general from obtaining records to look into whether the company concealed its knowledge of the role fossil fuels play with climate change.

In its decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Friday affirmed a lower court’s ruling that state Attorney General Maura Healey (D) has authority to investigate Exxon. The court ordered the oil company to hand over documents to the attorney general’s office as part of her investigation into the company’s history of climate deception.

In January 2017, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge ruled Exxon must comply with Healey’s investigation and turn over 40 years of documents on climate change. Exxon appealed. The state Supreme Judicial Court’s decision on Friday upheld the lower court judge’s order.

“Exxon’s scorched earth campaign to block our investigation has been entirely rejected by the courts,” Healey said Friday in a statement. “Now Exxon must come forward with the truth, what it knew about climate change, when, and what it told the world.”

Healey and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) are both looking into whether Exxon misled shareholders about the risks that climate change posed to the company’s business.

Investigations into Exxon began in 2015, after a series of investigative reports published by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that the company’s internal scientists were aware of the risks of burning fossil fuels as early as the 1970s. Despite that information, however, Exxon continued to fund a public campaign aimed at undermining the scientific consensus around climate change, and maintained an official position of climate denial for years.

Healey launched her own investigation in March 2016 into whether the company deceived Massachusetts consumers and investors about the impacts of burning fossil fuels on the planet and its business. Exxon promptly filed a lawsuit against Healey, accusing the attorney general of using the investigation for political purposes by “targeting the speech of [her] political opponents” and “exposing [the company’s] documents that may be politically useful to climate activists.”

Last month, a federal judge dismissed separate lawsuits brought by Exxon against both Healey and Schneiderman. The judge called the company’s attempts to get the investigations thrown out and allegations against the attorneys general “implausible.”

Environmental groups now hope California Attorney General Xavier Becerra will join his fellow state attorneys general by opening an investigation into Exxon.

“Attorney General Healey has shown unwavering leadership in her commitment to the fossil free world that truly puts our communities first,” Jamie Henn, strategic communications director for, said Friday in a statement. “Let this be a clear sign to California’s [attorney general] Xavier Becerra: now’s your chance to get off the stands and onto the court in the fight for climate justice.”

Becerra hinted this week in an interview with the Sacramento Bee’s editorial board that his office is looking into the business practices of Exxon.

“Did you know that we were getting ready to sue Sutter Health? That was a six-year investigation. You did not know about that,” Becerra said about a separate investigation launched into a healthcare provider last month. “I could not tell you what, if anything, we’re doing, but I can tell you I’m fully aware of the issues involved with Exxon and I can tell you … we are on top of what we must do.”