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United States v. Exxon Mobil Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

December 9, 2019

United States of America, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Exxon Mobil Corporation, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted November 4, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California No. 2:17-mc-00066-CBM-PJW Consuelo B. Marshall, District Judge, Presiding

          Jeffrey B. Clark (argued), Assistant Attorney General; Garrett Coyle, Mark R. Haag, and John E. Arbab, Attorneys; Eric Grant, Deputy Assistant Attorney General; Environment & Natural Resources Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.; Raymond Porfiri, U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, Washington, D.C.; for Petitioner-Appellant.

          Steven J. Olsen (argued), Matthew R. Cowan, Lauren F. Kaplan, and John B. Sprangers, O'Melveny & Myers LLP, Los Angeles, California; Hannah Y. Chanoine, O'Melveny & Myers LLP, New York, New York; for Respondent-Appellee.

          Xavier Becerra, Attorney General; Christie Vosburg, Supervising Deputy Attorney General; James R. Potter, Deputy Attorney General; Office of the Attorney General, Los Angeles, California; for Amicus Curiae California Attorney General.

          Bayron T. Gilchrist, General Counsel; Barbara B. Baird, Chief Deputy Counsel; Daphne Hsu, Senior Deputy District Counsel; South Coast Air Quality Management District, Diamond Bar, California; for Amicus Curiae South Coast Air Quality Management District.

          Before: Mary M. Schroeder and Michelle T. Friedland, Circuit Judges, and Lee H. Rosenthal, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY [**]

         Subpoenas

         The panel reversed the district court's order denying the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Board's petition to enforce five requests, made pursuant to administrative subpoenas, issued against Exxon Mobil Corporation following an explosion and chemical release at an ExxonMobil refinery.

         The Board challenged only portions of five of the denied requests that related to the alkylation unit and the modified hydrofluoric acid stored there. The requests sought information that was relevant to the February 2015 accidental chemical release.

         The panel agreed with the Board's position that its requests for information and documents related to the alkylation unit and the modified hydrofluoric acid stored there were related to its investigation because the risks of damage to the alkylation unit and an accidental release of modified hydrofluoric acid were among the "facts, conditions, and circumstances" of the February 2015 accidental release from the adjacent fluid catalytic cracking unit.

         The panel held that a review of the specific disputed requests confirmed that each sought material that might cast light on the Board's investigation into the February 2015 release. The panel reversed the challenged portions of the district court's ruling that the subpoena requests were unenforceable and remanded for further proceedings.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM:

         After an explosion and chemical release at an ExxonMobil refinery, the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Board issued seven subpoenas with a total of 380 requests. ExxonMobil refused to comply with 56 of the requests. The district court held a hearing and, after argument, granted the Board's petition to enforce about half of the disputed requests, but declined to enforce 27, one in part. The Board appeals the district court's denial of its petition to enforce only five of those 27 requests. We hold that, although the district ...


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