Exxon Mobil found not guilty in climate change accounting case

A New York judge found that the case against Exxon didn't prove that the company deceived investors.

A New York judge found Exxon Mobil not guilty in a lawsuit that accused the energy company of deceiving investors about the cost of climate-change regulations.

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Manhattan Judge Barry Ostrager said New York Attorney General Letitia James' case, which sought $476 million to $1.6 billion in restitution to shareholders, didn't prove that Exxon Mobil deceived investors but did not excuse the energy giant from global warming accountability after a four-year-long investigation.

James' office didn't prove "that Exxon Mobil made any material misstatements or omissions about its practices and procedures that misled any reasonable investor," Ostrager wrote.

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"Nothing in this opinion is intended to absolve Exxon Mobil from responsibility for contributing to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases," he added. "But Exxon Mobil is in the business of producing energy, and this is a securities fraud case, not a climate change case."

Ostrager also said  there was no testimony from any actual investors who claimed to have been deceived, and he credited the company with "a culture of disciplined analysis, planning, accounting and reporting."

Exxon Mobil Corp. said the trial stemmed from a "baseless investigation" in a statement to FOX Business.

"Today’s ruling affirms the position ExxonMobil has held throughout the New York Attorney General’s baseless investigation. We provided our investors with accurate information on the risks of climate change. The court agreed that the Attorney General failed to make a case, even with the extremely low threshold of the Martin Act in its favor," the Texas-based comapny said.

Ted Wells, Jr., the lead attorney for Exxon, leaves the New York Supreme Court in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

"Lawsuits that waste millions of dollars of taxpayer money do nothing to advance meaningful actions that reduce the risks of climate change. ExxonMobil will continue to invest in researching breakthrough technologies to reduce emissions while meeting society’s growing demand for energy," it continued.

James maintained that the energy giant "misled investors" in a Tuesday statement.

“As Rex Tillerson admitted at trial, all investors are entitled to the truth. For the first time in history, ExxonMobil was compelled to answer publicly for their internal decisions that misled investors. The oil giant never took seriously the severe economic impact that climate change regulations would have on the company, contrary to what they were telling the public," she wrote.

"Throughout this case, we laid out how Exxon made materially false, misleading, and confusing representations to the American people about the company’s response to climate change regulations. Exxon’s inability to tell the truth, further underscores the lies that have been sold to the American public for decades," she added.

James concluded that she will "continue to fight to ensure companies are held responsible for actions that undermine and jeopardize the financial health and safety of Americans across our country, and we will continue to fight to end climate change."

Darren Woods, Chairman & CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation attends a news conference at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 1, 2017.

Lawsuit Reform Alliance Executive Director Tom Stebbins called Ostrager's ruling "a victory for the rule of law" and said New York residents "should be outraged" by the case in a Tuesday statement.

"Today’s decision is a victory for the rule of law. Other headline-hunting public officials should take note and New York residents should be outraged. After four years, countless taxpayer-funded court resources, and a list of failed legal theories, this case should be a cautionary tale for future New York Attorneys General and activist politicians in other states. The civil justice system is not the venue for political games," Stebbins said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.