Minnesota’s climate-deception lawsuit to finally proceed in state court after SCOTUS denies review of lower-court ruling

U.S. Supreme Court affirms ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit remanding lawsuit to Minnesota state court, where AG Ellison originally filed it in June 2020

Suit against ExxonMobil, American Petroleum Institute, and three Koch industries entities alleges defendants deceived and defrauded Minnesotans about their products’ role in causing climate change

January 8, 2024 (SAINT PAUL) — Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the State of Minnesota’s lawsuit against major actors in the fossil-fuel industry may proceed in state court. Without comment, the Court denied the petition of defendants ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and three Koch Industries entities to review lower-court decisions that remanded the case to state court. The order indicates  that Justice Kavanaugh would have accepted the petition.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison first sued defendants in June 2020, alleging defendants deceived and defrauded Minnesotans about the climate change-related danger associated with their products. Now, three and a half years after Minnesota first sued the defendants, the case can proceed in state court, where it was originally filed.

"I appreciate the Court’s consideration and decision. It aligns with 25 federal court decisions across the country, all of which have found that cases like ours rest on these defendants’ failures to warn and their campaigns of deception around their products’ contributions to the climate crisis. The Court’s decision confirms these cases are properly filed in state courts. Taken together, the defendants’ behavior has delayed the transition to alternative energy sources and a lower carbon economy, resulting in dire impacts on Minnesota’s environment and enormous costs to Minnesotans and the world. Now, the case can move forward in state court, where it was properly filed, and we can begin to hold these companies accountable for their wrongful conduct,” Attorney General Ellison said.

Timeline of Minnesota’s lawsuit against ExxonMobil, certain Koch entities, and API

On June 24, 2020Attorney General Keith Ellison sued ExxonMobil, three Koch entities, and the American Petroleum Institute on behalf of the state of Minnesota, alleging the defendants knowingly engaged in a decades’ long campaign of deception about the fossil fuel industry’s actual contributions to and true costs of climate change . The complaint describes how these companies strategized to deceive the public about climate-change science in order to safeguard their business interests. Internal experts in the field of climate change at these companies had issued multiple warnings to company leaders about what was coming. The complaint details a multi-pronged campaign of public deception that the companies and API conducted over the past 30 years. During this same period, ExxonMobil and Koch earned hundreds of billions of dollars in profits while Minnesota shouldered the costs and consequences of unmitigated climate change.

The lawsuit includes claims for fraud, failure to warn, and multiple separate violations of state laws that prohibit consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, and false statements in advertising. In addition to an injunction barring further violation of these laws, the complaint seeks restitution for the harms Minnesotans have suffered, and asks the Court to require defendants to fund a corrective public education campaign on the issue of climate change.

Shortly thereafter, the defendants removed the case to United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. The State argued that its suit should be remanded to state court, and the federal district court agreed . In his March 31, 2021 decision , Judge John R. Tunheim observed that the defendants’ attacks on the State’s case amount to “a caricature” and that they “overstate both the State’s claims and what is required to prove them under Minnesota law.” He found that “[s]tates have both the clear authority and primary competence to adjudicate alleged violations of state common law and consumer protection statutes” also wrote that the “Court declines Defendants’ invitation to interpret this well-pleaded consumer protection action as a wholesale attack on all features of global fossil fuel extraction, production, and policy.”   

The defendants then appealed the ruling the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. On March 23, 2023, nearly two years after the federal district court remanded the State’s lawsuit to state court, the 8th Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision to remand the State’s lawsuit to state court . The court wrote in part: “Minnesota is not the first state or local government to file this type of climate change litigation. Nor is this the first time that the Energy Companies …  have made these jurisdictional arguments. But our sister circuits rejected them in each case. … Today, we join them.”

The defendants subsequently filed a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, asking the Court to review the 8th Circuit decision. On October 23, 2023, Attorney General Ellison replied to the defendants’ petition, arguing the Court should not accept review. Today, the Supreme Court agreed with Attorney General Ellison and denied defendants’ petition for review with no comment, effectively upholding the prior decisions by the federal district and appeals courts and allowing the lawsuit to finally proceed in state court where it was originally filed.