Supreme Court rejects Exxon Mobil appeal in climate case

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to take up a case in which Exxon Mobil Corp. is trying to stop Massachusetts’s demand for documents from it in a climate change investigation.

The announcement in the case, Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Healey, came without explanation, as is the court’s usual practice. Four of the high court’s nine judges would have had to vote in favor of taking the case for it to be put in the docket.

Exxon Mobil, the nation’s largest oil company by production volume, wanted the court to stop Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) from compelling it to produce decades of records about how it has dealt with the threat of climate change to the world and to its businesses.

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The Supreme Court’s rejection appears to be the last step Exxon Mobil could take to stop the investigation, and the company now must likely comply with the civil investigative demand, a document akin to a subpoena.

Healey is probing whether the company lied to the public or investors about how much it knew about the threat of climate change, the role of its fossil fuel products and how climate policies would hurt its businesses.

The probe, launched in 2016, is part of a larger move by Democrats and environmentalists to hold Exxon Mobil accountable for allegedly sowing doubt about climate science while internally knowing the true extent of the problem. Exxon Mobil has denied the allegations.

Massachusetts’s top court ruled for Healey in April, after which Exxon Mobil asked the Supreme Court to step in.

“The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court compelled compliance with sweeping investigatory requests by the state’s attorney general for decades’ worth of documents concerning petitioner’s knowledge of, and the relationship of petitioner’s products to, climate change,” Exxon Mobil wrote in its September 2018 petition to the high court.

“The question presented is whether a court can exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonresident corporation to compel its compliance with an investigatory document request where jurisdiction is based principally on third-party contacts that are unrelated to the subject matter being investigated,” the oil giant said, calling the state court’s ruling “misguided.”

Exxon Mobil was backed in its petition by the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Healey responded Massachusetts law lets her go after Exxon Mobil because of its presence in the state, like advertising and selling products.

“Hundreds of ‘Exxon’ and ‘Mobil’ retail service stations operate in Massachusetts. Exxon Mobil Corporation (Exxon) has entered into franchise agreements that give it the right to control, and a share of the profits from, the marketing and sale of its products at these service stations. And Exxon admits it has itself advertised its products and sold securities in Massachusetts,” her office told the high court.