Showing posts with label Maura Healey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maura Healey. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Facebook shields records from Mass. AG inquiry

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today ruled on efforts by Facebook to resist disclosures arising from an internal investigation into application development.  The disclosures are sought by the commonwealth attorney general, which is investigating allegations of consumer data misuse.

AG Healey
(Zgreenblatt CC BY-SA 3.0)
The court's ruling is mixed, but, overall, Facebook gained ground.  The court allowed Facebook more latitude than it won in the lower court to resist disclosure on grounds of attorney work product.  On remand, the lower court will have to scrutinize the records to separate attorney opinion, which is protected, from mere facts, which are not.  The SJC agreed with the lower court that one set of records was within attorney-client privilege, and Facebook will have to produce a privilege log.

Facebook seems to be taking seriously the investigation by the office of Attorney General Maura Healey, and it should.  The company hired fixer-firm Gibson Dunn to handle its internal investigation and is represented by Wilmer Hale in the Massachusetts investigation.  Massachusetts data protection regulation is antiquated relative to the latest generation of regulations in Europe and California, but the law has been on the books for more than a decade.  The AG was represented in the SJC by attorney Sara Cable, whose appointment last year as the office's first chief of data privacy and security signaled an intent to ramp up data protection.  Massachusetts consumer protection law, "93A," the basis of the AG investigation here, is famously expansive, often displacing common law tort in private enforcement and affording generous damages.

Justice Scott Kafker wrote the lengthy opinion for the court in Attorney General v. Facebook, No. SJC-12946 (Mass. Mar. 24, 2021).  Justice Kafker is on a tear of late, having written the court's opinion in a sea change in tort law in late February and the court's unanimous ruling against Gordon College in a First Amendment religious freedom case on March 5.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Mass. high court supports AG in climate change investigation of Exxon Mobil

I'm not a civ pro cognoscente, but a ruling of the Massachusetts high court on long-arm jurisdiction today caught my attention because it relates to the effort to hold Big Oil accountable for climate change.  The case is Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Attorney General, No. SJC-12376 (Mass. Apr. 13, 2018).

Mass. A.G. Maura Healey
(Edahlpr CC BY-SA 4.0)
Since 2016, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has been investigating Exxon Mobil Corp. under the state consumer protection law--the same Mass. Gen. L. chapter 93A that powerfully enhances conventional civil actions in tort in the commonwealth.  The AG tracks the investigation blow by blow online.  The AG opened the investigation after the 2015 revelation that Exxon might have known about the risk of climate change as early as the 1970s, as reported by Scientific American.

As part of the investigation, "the Attorney General issued a civil investigative demand (C.I.D.) to Exxon, seeking documents and information relating to Exxon's knowledge of and activities related to climate change."  Exxon resisted the CID on personal jurisdiction grounds.  Exxon simultaneously sought declaratory relief in federal court in Texas (No. 4:16-CV-469).  A year ago the case was transferred to New York (No. 1:17-cv-02301), and two weeks ago, Healy prevailed (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2018).  Exxon is incorporated in New Jersey and headquartered in Texas.

The analysis for specific personal jurisdiction in an investigation is not the same as in a lawsuit, the court explained.  Exxon denied "suit-related" activity in Massachusetts.  But "the investigatory context requires that we broaden our analysis," the court wrote, to consider the scope of investigation regardless of whether any wrongdoing has yet been uncovered.

Exxon franchise in Durham, N.C.
(Ildar Sagdejev CC BY-SA 4.0)
"The Attorney General's investigation concerns climate change caused by manmade greenhouse gas emissions--a distinctly modern threat that grows more serious with time, and the effects of which are already being felt in Massachusetts."  More than 300 Exxon and Mobil franchises operate in Massachusetts.  Considering the corporation's close supervision of franchisees, the fuel stations "represent[] Exxon's 'purposeful and successful solicitation of business from residents of the Commonwealth.'"  The franchise agreements moreover require Exxon sign-off of advertising, so the court rejected Exxon's efforts to distance the corporation from consumer sales.

The Exxon investigation in Massachusetts unfolds against a backdrop of burgeoning legal attacks across the country.  The much-watched Juliana v. United States (Children's Trust) persists in the District of Oregon upon a favorable ruling in the Ninth Circuit in March (884 F.3d 830).  If state attorneys general make any headway under consumer protection law, I hope that any settlement serves more clearly to remedy climate change than the tobacco master settlement agreement has served to combat smoking-related health effects (see, e.g., Jones & Silvestri, 2010).

In re United States, 884 F.3d 830 (9th Cir. 2018)
884 F.3d 830

In re United States, 884 F.3d 830 (9th Cir. 2018)