Investigations and Subpoenas
In April 2016, the attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York initiated an investigation into whether Exxon Mobil violated state law by failing to disclose information about climate change-related risks to its business.
In February 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology issued a subpoena to the attorneys general requesting that they turn over privileged and protected documents relating to the state-led investigation.
The attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York objected to the subpoena and requested that the Committee withdraw its unprecedented and unlawful subpoena for documents relating to the investigation. The attorneys general asserted that the Committee has no authority over a state law investigation of potential securities, business, and consumer fraud, and noted that no congressional committee in history had ever subpoenaed a sitting state attorney general. Fifteen additional attorneys general also came forward and urged the Committee to withdraw its unprecedented subpoena.
Retaliatory Lawsuits by Exxon Mobil
In response to the subpoena, Exxon Mobil brought a suit against the attorneys general in a federal district court in Texas that argued that the attorneys general violated Exxon Mobil's right to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. In March 2017, the federal district court judge in Texas decided in favor of the request made by the attorneys general to transfer the retaliatory lawsuit to federal district court in New York.
As requested by the attorneys general, the federal district court in New York dismissed the retaliatory lawsuit in March 2018 for failing to state a plausible claim. In April 2018, Exxon notified the federal district court in New York that it was appealing the dismissal of its lawsuit against Massachusetts and New York to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
In October 2018, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed briefs in the Second Circuit, requesting that the court uphold the lower court decision as Exxon failed to state a claim. That same month, a coalition of 20 attorneys general filed an amicus brief in support of dismissing Exxon’s suit, noting that the suit would interfere with states’ longstanding investigatory and regulatory responsibilities to protect citizens from fraud. In January 2019, Michigan’s new attorney Dana Nessel withdrew the state from an amicus brief it had filed along with other states in support of Exxon in the Second Circuit litigation. In March 2019, newly sworn-in New York Attorney General Letitia James moved to dismiss the retaliatory lawsuit against New York in light of the office of the attorney general closing its investigation of Exxon and filing a suit against Exxon for misleading its investors (see below).
Exxon Mobil also brought a retaliatory suit against Attorney General Healey in Massachusetts state court. In January 2017, a lower-level Massachusetts state court dismissed the lawsuit and ruled that Exxon Mobil had to comply with the investigation. On appeal to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, the Court ruled in favor of Attorney General Healey and affirmed the lower court ruling in its entirety.
In January 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear Exxon’s appeal of the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling.