ExxonMobil Cleared of Fraud in Climate Trial Brought by Attorney General of New York

In a fifty-five page decision dated December 10, 2019, Justice Barry R. Ostrager found that the Attorney General of the State of New York “failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that ExxonMobil made any material misrepresentations that ‘would have been viewed by a reasonable investor as having significantly altered the ‘total mix’ of  information made available.'” The decision followed twelve days of trial that included testimony from eighteen witnesses. The Office of the Attorney General (AG) brought the action alleging that ExxonMobil violated the Martin Act in its public disclosures to investors regarding its actions relating to past, present, and future climate change risks.

The charges stemmed from shareholder proposals that ExxonMobil provide more information about how it factored climate change risks and various regulations into the business actions the company took. These requests arose back in 2013. On December 17, 2013, ExxonMobil held a meeting with representatives of the shareholders and other inquiring parties. At that meeting, ExxonMobil ultimately agreed to publish two reports with more information about how the company addresses regulations and policies to reduce emissions from greenhouse gases. The AG alleged that those reports and other materials misled the public.

Justice Ostrager was careful to note that nothing in the opinion was intended to absolve ExxonMobil of contributing to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases stemming from the production of its products. He went on to note that the case was one of securities fraud and not a climate change case as many billed it. Ultimately, Justice Ostrager found that the AG did not prove that ExxonMobil made any material misrepresentations that misled a reasonable investor.

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