Exxon had fought state Attorney General Maura Healey’s demand for documents about potential climate fraud, but a Mass. judge backs Healey’s right to the probe.

By David Hasemyer. This article was first published on Inside Climate News.

Massachusetts AG Maura Healey won the latest legal round with Exxon

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey had her climate investigation of Exxon upheld by a state judge. Credit: Getty Images

A Massachusetts Superior Court judge has refused to block the climate fraud investigation of ExxonMobil opened last year by state Attorney General Maura Healey.

The ruling Wednesday means Exxon must comply with Healey’s civil investigative demand for company records. Healey requested the documents as part of an investigation to determine if Exxon misled consumers about the risks climate change posed to its business.

Exxon had argued Healey lacked the jurisdiction to pursue the investigation and maintained Texas was the proper venue for any legal action because the company is headquartered in Dallas.

But Judge Heidi Brieger disagreed.

“This matter involves the Massachusetts consumer protection statute and Massachusetts case law arising under it about which the Massachusetts Superior Court is certainly more familiar than would be a federal court in Texas,” according to Brieger’s ruling.

The parallel legal battle Exxon is waging in a federal court in Texas to derail Healey’s investigation remains under way.

The Massachusetts court ruling affirms the authority of the attorney general to investigate fraud, said Chloe Gotsis, a spokeswoman for Healey.

“Exxon must now end its obstructive tactics and come clean about whether it misled Massachusetts consumers and investors about what it knew about climate change, its causes and effects,” Gotsis said.

A spokesman for Exxon did not respond to a request for comment.

Healey opened the investigation in April under the state’s consumer protection laws seeking documents back to 1976 related to Exxon’s understanding of climate change and the effects it could have on its business.

The civil investigative demand—similar to a subpoena—included a request for documents detailing the company’s decades of climate research, how it was preparing for sea-level rise and materials prepared for potential investors.

The demand also sought statements by Exxon officials, including by the company’s then-chief executive, Rex Tillerson, who was questioned Wednesday about climate change during his Senate confirmation hearing to become secretary of state.

The company argued that Healey’s investigation amounted to an “arbitrary and capricious” abuse of power and was politically motivated.

But the judge said that under state law Healey was empowered to open the investigation based on her belief that a person or company was engaged in unfair or deceptive business practices in the state and that she should have “broad access” to Exxon records to determine if there were any violations of law.

Brieger also rejected Exxon’s contention that the company was targeted by Healey because of its views on global warming.

“The court finds that the Attorney General has assayed sufficient grounds her concerns about Exxon’s possible misrepresentations to Massachusetts consumers—upon which to issue the CID,” said the 14-page ruling.

“In light of these concerns, the court concludes that Exxon has not met its burden showing that the Attorney General is acting arbitrarily or capriciously toward it.”

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David Hasemyer

InsideClimate News reporter David Hasemyer is co-author of the "Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of," which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.  As an ICN staff member since 2012, he has been a finalist in the 2012 Scripps Howard Awards for Environmental Reporting and won honorable mention in the 2012 and 2015 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism. Prior to joining ICN, he was an award-winning investigative reporter at the San Diego Union-Tribune.