The United States Supreme Court declined to review a lower court’s decision in a state lawsuit against Suncor Energy in what could be good news for Connecticut Attorney General William Tong’s ongoing lawsuit against oil giant Exxon.
Tong filed a lawsuit against Exxon in 2020 claiming the company knew of the climate impacts of its product, but knowingly misled consumers and contributed to rising temperatures that will ultimately have costs and negative impacts on Connecticut residents, thereby violating the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Connecticut is one of at least eight states that have filed such lawsuits, with many of them making the same claim that large oil companies violated state consumer protection laws, seeking to have the lawsuits heard in state court, rather than in federal court where oil companies like Exxon have been victorious in the past.
Connecticut is currently waiting on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to determine whether its case will be heard in state or federal court, but the recent decision by the Supreme Court not to review Suncor v. Boulder County has Tong hopeful that his Exxon case will be heard in Connecticut’s court system.
“The Supreme Court was correct to deny certiorari in Suncor Energy v. Boulder and several other similar cases today,” Tong said in a press release. “The law is clear – these cases belong in state court, and the Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari confirms what every Circuit to examine this issue has concluded. We are hopeful that the Second Circuit will soon join this unanimous precedent and allow our case to hold ExxonMobil accountable for decades of deception to proceed in state court.”
Exxon is also a defendant in the Suncor case, which alleges the energy companies misrepresented the dangers of burning fossil fuels and ultimately cost states to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change. The Supreme Court’s decision to pass on this case means it will remain in state court.
Connecticut’s next door neighbors Massachusetts and Rhode Island have seen similar success with their own lawsuits, with both successfully arguing to keep their cases in state rather than federal court.
The oil companies have argued that these cases are a matter of federal common law and under federal jurisdiction and therefore the cases should be heard in federal court. However, since the litigation is focused on state laws, rather than federal laws, so far, the oil giant’s arguments have been unsuccessful.
Previous state lawsuits, including Connecticut, against oil companies in 2004 eventually found their way to the Supreme Court and were roundly defeated by unanimous decision in 2011. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote the court could not determine appropriate levels of carbon emissions and it should be left to federal regulators.
In a 2020 press release, Tong indicated the lawsuit is built on documents that show Exxon knew burning fossil fuels contributed to global warming as early as the 1950s but instead of warning states and people “the company hid its research and launched a widespread campaign of deception through advertising, skewed research papers, public speeches, books, and presentations.”
“Because of this deception, Connecticut lost out on decades of opportunities to prepare for and mitigate climate change, which is now causing sea level rise, flooding, drought, increased temperatures, decreased air quality, and more frequent severe storms,” the press release said.
The cases are similar in scope to the successful lawsuits filed against tobacco companies for the marketing of cigarettes and pharmaceutical companies for marketing of opioids, each of which have or will bring in hundreds of millions to the state.