Exxon Mobil Corp. must face a Massachusetts lawsuit over whether it misled investors about risks related to climate change, a state superior court ruled Wednesday.
Attorney General Maura Healey sued the energy company in October 2019, alleging that it misled investors and consumers about the climate dangers of its fossil fuel products and the risks to its business posed by climate change, and that it falsely promoted itself as an environmentally responsible clean energy leader working to address climate change.
The complaint was amended in June 2020 with new allegations, including how the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerability of Exxon's business model to market shifts, including those caused by climate change. The complaint alleges that Exxon systematically and intentionally has misled Massachusetts investors about material climate-driven risks to its business, through "significant factual misstatements" and failing to disclose information that would be material to investment decisions.
Massachusetts Suffolk Superior Court Justice Karen Green in Boston dismissed Exxon's argument that its statements were protected by the First Amendment. Ms. Green said that it was not apparent at this stage whether particular company statements were protected but "it is apparent from the context in which they were made that many" are not.
In a statement Thursday, Ms. Healey said the orders denying two Exxon motions to dismiss the case "represent a significant step forward for my office's work to hold Exxon accountable for lying to Massachusetts consumers about the climate harms of using its fossil fuel products and to Massachusetts investors about the negative impact of climate change on the value of its business. To this day, Exxon is continuing to promote its fossil fuel products to consumers as good for the environment and misleading investors that demand for fossil fuels will remain strong for the foreseeable future. We look forward to litigating the merits of our claims and stopping Exxon's continued illegal deception."
Exxon Mobil spokesman Casey Norton said in an emailed statement that "the case lacks merit, and we look forward to defending the company. We are reviewing the court's opinion and considering next steps."
The lawsuit is one of many targeting Exxon and other energy companies over their public statements about climate change over the years. Most of the other cases focus on so-called public nuisance claims, some of which have been dismissed and are on appeal.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.