The recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court marks a significant development in the ongoing legal battle between the State of Minnesota and major players in the fossil fuel industry, including ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and three Koch Industries entities. This ruling, dated January 8, 2024, affirms the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, allowing the lawsuit to proceed in the Minnesota state court, a decision that aligns with several other federal court rulings across the United States.
Initially filed in June 2020 by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, the lawsuit alleges that these companies engaged in a decades-long campaign to deceive the public about the role of fossil fuels in climate change. The complaint contends that these companies strategically misled the public about climate change science to protect their business interests, despite multiple warnings from their own internal experts about the impending crisis. The lawsuit accuses the defendants of fraud, failure to warn, and violations of state laws related to consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, and false advertising. The state seeks restitution for the harms suffered by Minnesotans due to unmitigated climate change and demands that the defendants fund a corrective public education campaign on climate change.
After the lawsuit was filed, the defendants attempted to move the case to the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. However, the state argued for the case to remain in state court, and the federal district court agreed. Judge John R. Tunheim, in his March 31, 2021, decision, highlighted that the defendants’ portrayal of the State’s case was exaggerated and emphasized the state’s authority and competence in adjudicating alleged violations of state common law and consumer protection statutes.
The defendants then appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, which, in March 2023, affirmed the lower court’s decision to keep the lawsuit in state court. The 8th Circuit noted that this was not the first instance of such climate change litigation and that similar jurisdictional arguments by energy companies had been consistently rejected by other circuits. The defendants’ subsequent request for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court was denied, with the Supreme Court’s decision effectively upholding the decisions by the federal district and appeals courts. This decision allows the lawsuit to proceed in state court, as originally filed by the State of Minnesota.
This case is emblematic of the growing trend of climate change litigation, where states and local governments are increasingly holding major fossil fuel companies accountable for their alleged role in contributing to and deceiving the public about climate change. The outcome of this case could have significant implications for the future of climate-related litigation and the accountability of major players in the fossil fuel industry.