Commonwealth v. Exxon Mobil Corp., CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-12430-WGY

CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtYOUNG, D.J.
Citation462 F.Supp.3d 31
Decision Date28 May 2020
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 19-12430-WGY
Parties Commonwealth of MASSACHUSETTS, Plaintiff, v. EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, Defendant.

462 F.Supp.3d 31

Commonwealth of MASSACHUSETTS, Plaintiff,
v.
EXXON MOBIL CORPORATION, Defendant.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-12430-WGY

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts.

Filed May 28, 2020


462 F.Supp.3d 33

Christophe G. Courchesne, Melissa A. Hoffer, Shennan A. Kavanagh, Matthew Q. Berge, Glenn S. Kaplan, I. Andrew Goldberg, James A. Sweeney, Richard A. Johnston, Timothy J. Reppucci, Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, Boston, MA, for Plaintiff.

Daniel J. Toal, Pro Hac Vice, Theodore V. Wells, Jr., Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP, New York, NY, Kannon K. Shanmugam, Pro Hac Vice, Williams & Connolly LLP, Washington, DC, Patrick J. Conlon, Pro Hac Vice, Spring, TX, Thomas C. Frongillo, Christina Nicole Lindberg, Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht LLP, Boston, MA, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

YOUNG, D.J.

462 F.Supp.3d 34

I. INTRODUCTION

The parties offer the Court sharply diverging theories of this case. As Exxon Mobil Corporation tells it, Massachusetts has brought this suit to hold a single oil company liable for global climate change. To the Commonwealth, this case is about seismic corporate fraud perpetrated on millions of consumers and investors. Yet as it reaches this Court on a motion to remand, this case is about the well-pleaded complaint rule -- nothing more and nothing less. That rule, in turn, implicates the fault lines dividing the federal and state judiciaries.

After oral argument and careful consideration, the Court remanded the case to state court for want of federal jurisdiction. This memorandum fully explicates the Court's reasoning. In brief, the Commonwealth's well-pleaded complaint pleads only state law claims, which are not completely preempted by federal law and do not harbor an embedded federal question. Additionally, contrary to the defendant's assertions, the statutory grants of federal jurisdiction for cases involving federal officers or for class actions do not apply here.

A. Procedural Background

This case has a complex pre-history dating back to April 19, 2016, when Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey ("the Attorney General") issued a Civil Investigative Demand ("CID") to Exxon Mobil Corporation ("ExxonMobil") for potentially defrauding ExxonMobil's consumers and investors, requesting ExxonMobil's internal documents since 1976 relating to carbon dioxide emissions. See Office of the Attorney General, Civil Investigative Demand No. 2016-EPD-36 (Apr. 19, 2016), https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2016/10/op/ma-exxon-cid-.pdf. This investigation was presaged with fanfare by the "AG's United for Clean Power Press Conference" held on March 29, 2016, in which the Attorney General (joined by several counterparts from other states and former Vice President Al Gore) announced a band of twenty attorneys general -- dubbed "the Green 20" -- and noted "the troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew [about climate change] ... and what the company and industry chose to share with investors and with the American public." Notice of Removal ("Notice"), Ex. 2, AGs United for Clean Power Press Conference 1-2, 12-13, ECF No. 1-2.1

Hardly a potted plant, ExxonMobil swiftly countered the CID with lawsuits in state and federal court. See In re Civil Investigative Demand No. 2016-EPD-36, 34 Mass. L. Rptr. 104, 2017 WL 627305, at *1 (Mass. Super. Ct. Jan. 11, 2017) (Brieger,

462 F.Supp.3d 35

J.), aff'd sub nom. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Attorney General, 479 Mass. 312, 94 N.E.3d 786 (2018), cert. denied, ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 794, 202 L.Ed.2d 570 (2019) ; Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Schneiderman, 316 F. Supp. 3d 679, 686 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) ("Running roughshod over the adage that the best defense is a good offense, [ExxonMobil] has sued the Attorneys General of Massachusetts and New York ... each of whom has an open investigation of Exxon."), appeal docketed sub nom. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Healey, No. 18-1170 (2d Cir. Apr. 23, 2018); Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Healey, Civ. A. No. 16-CV-469-K (N.D. Tex. March 29, 2017); Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Healey, 215 F. Supp. 3d 520 (N.D. Tex. 2016). When these efforts to quash the subpoenas failed in New York and Massachusetts,2 ExxonMobil fought through a bench trial in New York and won a favorable decision. People of New York v. Exxon Mobil Corp., No. 452044/2018, 2019 WL 6795771 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Dec. 10, 2019).

In this case, the Attorney General filed her 205-page complaint in Massachusetts Superior Court on October 24, 2019. Notice, Ex. 13, Compl., ECF No. 1-13. ExxonMobil removed the case to this Court on November 29, 2019, ECF No. 1, and the Commonwealth filed a motion to remand on December 26, 2019, ECF No. 13. The parties briefed this motion. Mem. L. Comm. Mass. Supp. Mot. Remand ("Mem. Remand"), ECF No. 14; ExxonMobil's Opp'n Pl.’s Mot. Remand ("Opp'n"), ECF No. 18; Reply Comm. Mass. Supp. Mot. Remand ("Reply"), ECF No. 21. After a hearing on March 17, 2020, conducted telephonically due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Court ALLOWED the motion to remand and the case was remanded to Suffolk County Superior Court. ECF Nos. 28-29.

B. Facts Alleged3

Spawned from the marriage of oil leviathans Exxon Corporation ("Exxon") and Mobil Oil Corporation ("Mobil") in 1999, ExxonMobil is "the world's largest publicly traded oil and gas company." Compl. ¶¶ 1, 47. It is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in Texas. Id. ¶ 46.4 Id. ¶¶ 52-53. As an integrated oil and gas company, ExxonMobil "locates, extracts, refines, transports, markets, and sells fossil fuel products." Id. ¶ 54. Its business may be divided into three segments: " ‘upstream’ exploration and production operations; ‘downstream’ refinery and retail operations; and its chemical business, which include[s] the manufacturing and sale of various fossil fuel products that it advertises and sells to Massachusetts consumers." Id. ¶ 55. Business has been good. Recent assessments placed ExxonMobil's market capitalization at $343.43 billion and counted approximately

462 F.Supp.3d 36

4.27 billion shares of its common stock issued and outstanding. Id. ¶ 53. Selling over 42 billion barrels of petroleum products and taking in more than $5.6 trillion in revenue from 2001-2017, ExxonMobil's sale of petroleum products in those years averaged roughly 8% of the world's daily petroleum consumption. Id. ¶¶ 58-59.

1. Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

Production and use of fossil fuels, including ExxonMobil's products, emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Id. ¶ 65. Between 1988 and 2015, ExxonMobil was the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases of all U.S. companies, when consumer use of the products is factored in, and it was the fifth largest emitter among all non-governmentally owned fossil fuel producers worldwide. Id. ¶ 67. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels "contributed about seventy-eight percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions increase from 1970 to 2010." Id. ¶ 202. Our Earth is plainly getting hotter, and scientists have reached a consensus that this is largely due to rising carbon dioxide concentrations and other greenhouse gas emissions. Id. ¶¶ 196-199. This fact threatens our planet and all its people, including those in Massachusetts, with intolerable disaster: "The atmosphere and oceans are warming, snow and ice cover is shrinking, and sea levels are rising." Id. ¶ 201.

The Commonwealth alleges that ExxonMobil knew these basic scientific facts decades ago -- that, in fact, ExxonMobil's scientists "were among the earliest to understand the risks posed by increasing greenhouse gas emissions" -- and yet devised a "systematic effort ..., reminiscent of the tobacco industry's long denial campaign about the dangerous effects of cigarettes, to mislead both investors and consumers in Massachusetts." Id. ¶¶ 4-5. Nearly forty years ago, the Commonwealth asserts, ExxoMobil already "knew that climate change presented dramatic risks to human civilization and the environment as well as a major potential constraint on fossil fuel use." Id. ¶ 115.

2. ExxonMobil's Campaign of Deception

Despite this knowledge, "[a]n August 1988 Exxon internal memorandum, captioned ‘The Greenhouse Effect,’ captures Exxon's intentional decision to misrepresent both its knowledge of climate change and the role of Exxon's products in causing climate change." Id. ¶ 118. This memorandum "set forth an ‘Exxon Position’ in which Exxon would ‘[e]mphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions regarding the potential enhanced Greenhouse effect,’ " and it "made clear that Exxon ‘has not modified its energy outlook or forecasts to account for possible changes in fossil fuel demand or utilization due to the [g]reenhouse effect.’ " Id. ¶ 120 (alterations in original).

In order to advance this position, ExxonMobil and other fossil-fuel-affiliated corporations and trade groups formed the "Global Climate Coalition" in 1989, which generally represented to "investors and consumers of fossil fuels ... that, contrary to Exxon's internal knowledge, the role of...

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9 practice notes
  • City of Hoboken v. Exxon Mobil Corp., Civil Action No. 20-cv-14243
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • September 8, 2021
    ...that has considered Defendants’ Grable argument thus far has rejected Defendants’ position. See Massachusetts v. Exxon Mobil Corp. , 462 F. Supp. 3d 31, 45 (D. Mass. 2020) (collecting cases). Defendants do not challenge any of these decisions, and this Court finds these decisions persuasive......
  • City of N.Y. v. Chevron Corp., No. 18-2188
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • April 1, 2021
    ..., 969 F.3d 895 (9th Cir. 2020), petition for cert. filed , No. 20-1089 (Jan. 8, 2021); see also Massachusetts v. Exxon Mobil Corp. , 462 F. Supp. 3d 31, 34 (D. Mass. 2020) ; Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs v. Suncor Energy (U.S.A.) Inc. , 405 F. Supp. 3d 947, 954 (D. Colo. 2019), aff'd , 965 F.3d 792,......
  • Using Issue Certification Against a Defendant Class to Establish Causation in Climate Change Litigtion
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 52-4, April 2022
    • April 1, 2022
    ...13, 2020) (alleging constitutional violations of the public trust for climate-related injuries); Massachusetts v. ExxonMobil Corp., 462 F. Supp. 3d 31 (D. Mass. 2020) (alleging that Exxon fraudulently concealed and misrepresented to investors and consumers about the risks of rising GHG emis......
  • City of N.Y. v. Chevron Corp., No. 18-2188
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • April 1, 2021
    ...reh'g, 969 F.3d 895 (9th Cir. 2020), petition for cert. filed, No. 20-1089 (Jan. 8, 2021); see also Massachusetts v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 462 F. Supp. 3d 31, 34 (D. Mass. 2020); Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs v. Suncor Energy (U.S.A.) Inc., 405 F. Supp. 3d 947, 954 (D. Colo. 2019) , aff'd, 965 F.3d 792......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • City of Hoboken v. Exxon Mobil Corp., Civil Action No. 20-cv-14243
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • September 8, 2021
    ...that has considered Defendants’ Grable argument thus far has rejected Defendants’ position. See Massachusetts v. Exxon Mobil Corp. , 462 F. Supp. 3d 31, 45 (D. Mass. 2020) (collecting cases). Defendants do not challenge any of these decisions, and this Court finds these decisions persuasive......
  • City of N.Y. v. Chevron Corp., No. 18-2188
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • April 1, 2021
    ..., 969 F.3d 895 (9th Cir. 2020), petition for cert. filed , No. 20-1089 (Jan. 8, 2021); see also Massachusetts v. Exxon Mobil Corp. , 462 F. Supp. 3d 31, 34 (D. Mass. 2020) ; Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs v. Suncor Energy (U.S.A.) Inc. , 405 F. Supp. 3d 947, 954 (D. Colo. 2019), aff'd , 965 F.3d 792,......
  • City of N.Y. v. Chevron Corp., No. 18-2188
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • April 1, 2021
    ...reh'g, 969 F.3d 895 (9th Cir. 2020), petition for cert. filed, No. 20-1089 (Jan. 8, 2021); see also Massachusetts v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 462 F. Supp. 3d 31, 34 (D. Mass. 2020); Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs v. Suncor Energy (U.S.A.) Inc., 405 F. Supp. 3d 947, 954 (D. Colo. 2019) , aff'd, 965 F.3d 792......
  • Commonwealth v. E Xxon Mobil Corp., SJC-13211
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • May 24, 2022
    ...c. 93A, § 4. After Exxon Mobil unsuccessfully attempted to remove the action to Federal court, see Massachusetts v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 462 F. Supp. 3d 31, 34 (D. Mass. 2020), the Attorney General filed an amended complaint. The amended complaint alleged violations of G. L. c. 93A and relate......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • Using Issue Certification Against a Defendant Class to Establish Causation in Climate Change Litigtion
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 52-4, April 2022
    • April 1, 2022
    ...13, 2020) (alleging constitutional violations of the public trust for climate-related injuries); Massachusetts v. ExxonMobil Corp., 462 F. Supp. 3d 31 (D. Mass. 2020) (alleging that Exxon fraudulently concealed and misrepresented to investors and consumers about the risks of rising GHG emis......
  • CATCH AND KILL JURISDICTION.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 121 Nbr. 2, November 2022
    • November 1, 2022
    ...Comm'rs of Boulder Cnty. v. Suncor Energy (U.S.A.) Inc., 405 F. Supp. 3d 947, 981 (D. Colo. 2019); Massachusetts v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 462 F. Supp. 3d 31, 51 (D. Mass. 2020). (65.) City of New York v. BP P.L.C., 325 F. Supp. 3d 466, 471-72 (S.D.N.Y. 2018); City of New York v. Chevron Corp.,......
  • Turning a Blind Eye: The Trump Administration's Flagrant Disregard for the Warming Effects of Methane on the Earth's Climate.
    • United States
    • Suffolk University Law Review Vol. 55 Nbr. 3, June 2022
    • June 22, 2022
    ...come. See Press Release, supra (holding oil and gas industry accountable for climate degradation); Massachusetts v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 462 F. Supp. 3d 31, 36 (D. Mass. 2020) (suing Exxon under Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act for misrepresentations made regarding GHGs' effect on climat......

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