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Massachusetts Cleared by Supreme Court to Probe ExxonMobil Records

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by ExxonMobil Corp. to block the release of internal documents, clearing the way for Massachusetts to investigate whether investors were misled about the role fossil fuels may play in climate change.

The Massachusetts Judicial Supreme Court last April held that Attorney General (AG) Maura Healey has jurisdiction to seek ExxonMobil records dating back to the 1970s about whether its marketing fossil fuel products violates the state’s consumer protection law. Healey in 2016 issued a civil investigation demand to ExxonMobil seeking documents to investigate whether the supermajor had violated the Massachusetts consumer protection law by marketing and selling fossil fuel products.

ExxonMobil argued that because it is incorporated in Texas and New Jersey, the Massachusetts AG has no basis to seek documents for a state probe. However, the Massachusetts high court held that jurisdiction existed because ExxonMobil has control over advertising for around 300 franchise retail fuel stations in the state that operate under the Exxon and Mobil brands.

Healey in part has been working with the New York AG’s office, which in late 2015 launched an investigation of ExxonMobil’s internal research and shareholder communications on fossil fuels. Healey and more than a dozen other state AGs joined the probe in 2016.

Internal ExxonMobil documents were released by various media outlets in 2015 that purported to show the company hid internal scientific information for decades and established its knowledge of climate risks.

ExxonMobil last March lost in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York regarding its case to end the New York probe. Judge Valerie Caproni in a 48-page ruling, said ExxonMobil was “running roughshod over the adage that the best defense is a good offense.” She ruled that a federal lawsuit may not be used to fight state investigations that question whether climate change statements made by the corporation amount to fraud (No. 17-CV-2301).

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