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Climate Change Lawsuit: Minnesota Attorney General Sues ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and API

Jul 01, 2020

Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute (API) have been made defendants in a June 2020 lawsuit filed by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison seeking climate change damages based upon violations of Minnesota consumer fraud and deceptive trade laws, as well as its false advertising statutes in addition to common law fraud, misrepresentation, and negligence.

Defendants: Fossil Fuel Corporations and Industry Lobbyist

Filed on June 24, 2020, the State of Minnesota is seeking significant compensation from not only two of the largest fossil fuel corporations in the world (ExxonMobil and Koch Industries) but also the largest lobbying group for the fossil fuel industry, the American Petroleum Institute. (The two Flint Hills defendants are subsidiaries of Koch Industries; for details, see Complaint, pages 11-13.)

Causes of Action Asserted by Minnesota

This climate change lawsuit seeks damages based upon allegations that the defendants violated a variety of Minnesota consumer protection laws in a “campaign of deception.”

Specifically, Minnesota asserts:

  1. Violation of the Minnesota Consumer Fraud Act (Complaint, page 73);
  2. Failure To Warn – Strict and Negligent Liability (against all defendants except API)(Complaint, page 74);
  3. Fraud and Misrepresentation (Complaint, page 77);
  4. Violation of the Minnesota Deceptive Trade Practices Act (Complaint, page 78); and
  5. Violation of the Minnesota False Statement in Advertising Act (Complaint, page 81).

Damages Sought in Minnesota Climate Change Lawsuit

The State of Minnesota seeks various forms of justice in its complaint, including injunctive relief, disclosure of research, and an order for the defendants to fund a corrective state public education campaign. (See Complaint, pages 82-84.)

Monetarily, an award is sought for maximum civil penalties pursuant to the alleged statutory violations as well as for restitution pursuant both statute and common law. Minnesota also asks for an order forcing ExxonMobil and Koch to disgorge all profits made as a result of their unlawful conduct, as well as reimbursement for the state’s costs and legal fees.

Factual Allegations in Minnesota Complaint: “Campaign of Deception”

The Minnesota Complaint is detailed in its factual allegations supporting its stated causes of action. Almost seventy (70) pages of the pleading delve into specific circumstances that work together to support Minnesota’s claims for relief due to climate change harm.

These were addressed in detail during Attorney General Ellison’s press conference and news release announcing the filing of this latest climate change lawsuit. From AG Ellison (click on the links below to view and read the documents referenced as deceptive):

“The complaint describes how these companies strategized to deceive the public about climate-change science in order to safeguard their business interests. It was uncovered only starting in 2015 that internal experts in the field of climate change at these companies were issuing warnings to company leaders about what was coming. But rather than warn the public, as was the companies’ duty, the complaint details a multi-pronged campaign of 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.

"Two images released in the complaint today illustrate the campaign of deception. One is a document from Exxon Engineering, labeled “Proprietary Information,” dated October 19, 1979. It clearly asserts the reality of climate change and acknowledges that the cause is “due to fossil fuel consumption.” The other image is of print advertisements from the Information Council for the Environment, an industry front group dedicated to denying the science of climate change. The ads compare predictions of climate change to “Chicken Little” and assert that “they may not be true” — despite the defendants’ knowledge that the predictions were true.”

For more details on this new state climate change litigation, read the June 2020 news coverage by NPR, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Wall Street Journal.

Texas Environmental Damage Claims and Climate Change

At WigRum, we understand how deliberately and unashamedly the oil and gas industry is polluting our lands and waters in a relentless pursuit of profit. Our law firm has extensive experience in fighting large corporations in the courtroom, having achieved the rare distinction of having four nine-figure jury megaverdicts against major corporate defendants.

WigRum has dealt specifically with major oil and gas industry players and companies involved in fracking operations and environmental negligence.

WigRum Represented Coalition to Stop South Texas Air Contamination

Awhile back, Las Brisas Energy intended to establish a South Texas facility that would take petroleum coke waste product from nearby refineries and burn it at a Nueces County plant.

Representing a coalition of clients, including medical groups and environmental organizations, WigRum successfully challenged the Las Brisas facility to stop the resulting environment contamination if Las Brisas was allowed to proceed. Permits were denied and the facility was not built.

Remember When Corpus Christi’s Drinking Water Was Too Dangerous to Drink?

In December 2016, the City of Corpus Christi was notified that the city’s drinking water was filled with toxic chemicals. Corpus Christi tap water was dangerous to drink. The specific toxin was found to be Indulin AA-86, a known carcinogen.

Firm co-founder David Rumley thereafter instituted a series of claims against Valero in multi-district litigation seeking both actual and exemplary damages against the petroleum company for what was argued as act or omissions of “extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others of which [Valero] had actual awareness, but nevertheless proceeded with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.”

For more, see our Contamination Injury - Environmental Negligence page.