Case Details


Parens Patriae Authority

Filing State



District of Columbia Court of Appeals




District of Columbia v. ExxonMobil Oil Corp. No. 14-CV-633 (D.C. Ct. App. Nov. 2, 2017)


Parens patriae authority affirmed

Case Description

DC AG brought an action against an oil company and several petroleum distributors alleging violations of the city’s Retail Service Station Act (RSSA).  Defendants moved to dismiss arguing that the statute contemplates only private enforcement of its provisions and that the District failed to assert a quasi-sovereign to support assertions of parens patriae standing. The lower court agreed and dismissed the claims and the attorney general appealed.        The appellate court first addressed the question of standing.  The court found that the District’s interest, in this case is not quasi-sovereign, but sovereign—the District’s power to create and enforce its own legal code.  (The court noted that its conclusion that the District’s interest here was sovereign did not mean that the District’s interest in “fostering a competitive gasoline market for the benefit of consumers” is not an appropriate quasi-sovereign interest.) The court therefore reversed the trial court and held that the attorney general had standing to bring these claims. With regard to the question of statutory authority to bring these claims, the defendants argued that only the affected retail service stations had a right to bring suit.  The appellate court analyzed the statutory basis for the attorney general’s powers and determined that the statutory intent was that the attorney general “have broad power to exercise all such authority as the public interest requires and wide discretion? in determining what litigation to pursue to uphold the public interest” unless those powers were explicitly limited by statute.Second, the court held that  the statute would have to explicitly state that the independent Attorney General is foreclosed by the statute from exercising his common-law power to sue, in pursuit of what he believes the public interest requires to foster a competitive gasoline market for the benefit of consumers and “in the interests of the public health, safety, and welfare.”