WASHINGTON, DC—The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review, and ultimately overturn, a federal jury’s eye-popping $104 million award against Exxon Mobil for alleged pollution-related injuries that have not yet happened and may never even occur.

The case arises from a 2003 suit brought by the City of New York, alleging that Exxon (and others) contaminated groundwater in Jamaica, Queens with the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE). Under the Clean Air Act, Exxon was required by Congress to use an oxygenate in its gasoline, and the jury found that MTBE was the safest, feasible means of complying with the federal mandate.

In its brief in support of discretionary review, WLF argued that settled principles of conflict preemption preclude the court below from imposing liability on Exxon for using the most prudent means of complying with the Clean Air Act. WLF also argued that Exxon was not liable as a matter of law because the City never used the allegedly contaminated groundwater at issue, and its good faith intent to begin using that water sometime in the next 20 years is not an imminent injury that is “ripe” for review.

Upon filing its brief, WLF issued the following statement by Senior Litigation Counsel Cory Andrews:

“Exxon should not be forced into making a Hobson’s choice between complying with a federal mandate and incurring over $100 million of liability under state law. Even worse, if municipalities working in tandem with the plaintiffs’ bar can now recover huge sums for conjectural future injuries that may never occur, our system of civil justice will soon come to resemble a casino craps table where governments get to play ‘on the house.’” 

WLF is a public interest law and policy center with supporters in all 50 States.  WLF regularly litigates in environmental matters to promote a rational balance between environmental protection and economic growth.