Massachusetts’s highest court on Tuesday declined to strike down Attorney General Maura Healey’s (D) lawsuit accusing ExxonMobil of knowingly misleading shareholders and the public about the relationship between its products and climate change.
The energy giant had argued the lawsuit ran afoul of Massachusetts’s anti-strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) law. However, the panel ruled that the state law did not apply to civil actions by the attorney general’s office.
“Construing the anti-SLAPP statute to apply to the Attorney General would place significant roadblocks to the enforcement of the Commonwealth’s laws,” the ruling says.
Such an interpretation would have “a substantial effect on the investigation and enforcement of illegal activity, which is a critical function of the government,” Justice Scott Kafker wrote.
SLAPP statutes are generally intended to protect people and entities from nuisance lawsuits from private citizens, rather than government agencies, he added.
“Once again, Exxon’s attacks on my office and our case have been rejected by the courts. Today’s ruling is a resounding victory in our work to stop Exxon from lying to investors and consumers in our state. Exxon’s repeated attempts to stonewall our lawsuit have been baseless, and this effort was no different,” Healey said in a statement. “We look forward to proceeding with our case and having our day in court to show how Exxon is breaking the law and to put an end to the deception once and for all.”
An Exxon spokesperson told The Hill the company is “reviewing the decision and evaluating next steps.”
Healey’s office brought the lawsuit in 2019, claiming Exxon misled consumers about the extent to which its products reduce greenhouse gases and produce renewable energy, a practice known as “greenwashing.”
A number of states and environmental organizations have brought similar lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, and federal courts have issued similar rulings in California, Colorado and Maryland.
Congressional Democrats have also set their sights on Exxon and other oil companies over allegations they misled the public, with regard to both the environmental friendliness of their products and the link between fossil fuels and climate change. In a 2021 hearing of the House Oversight Committee, executives from Exxon and other oil companies denied under oath that they knowingly spread misinformation about the relationship.