On March 28, 2024, the Paris Judicial Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by TotalEnergies, one of France’s largest oil and gas companies, against an environmental non-governmental organization (“NGO”) and a consulting firm. The lawsuit, based on allegations of disseminating misleading information about the company, was dismissed because the subpoena issued by TotalEnergies was deemed too vague, preventing the defendants from effectively defending themselves.

The legal battle originated from a report titled “Carbon Footprint: No Totaling the Numbers” published in November 2022 by Greenpeace France and a consulting firm. The report accused TotalEnergies of significantly underestimating its 2019 greenhouse gas emissions. In response, TotalEnergies claimed that the report contained misleading information in violation of French law and initiated legal proceedings against the defendants in the Paris Judicial Court.

The company sought financial penalties and the removal of the report and related publications. However, during pre-trial proceedings, the defendants contested the validity of the subpoena, emphasizing its lack of precision. They also argued that TotalEnergies’ lawsuit constituted a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP or “proceeding-barrier” in French), designed to stifle public engagement by bypassing the strict conditions outlined in French law for defamation cases.

The Paris Judicial Court ruled in favor of the defendants, declaring the subpoena invalid due to its lack of specificity. The court noted that the subpoena “did not identify or clearly and specifically list the false and misleading information in question.” This lack of clarity and vagueness, according to the court, prevented the defendants from preparing an appropriate defense. On this basis, the court dismissed TotalEnergies’ lawsuit against Greenpeace for failure to meet the procedural requirements set by French law. Furthermore, the court dismissed the defendants’ counterclaim of abuse of process, indicating that there was insufficient or unverified evidence to support such a claim.

Greenpeace representatives expressed satisfaction with the court’s ruling. Clara Gonzales, legal counsel for Greenpeace France, highlighted the significance of the victory for freedom of expression and the ability of civil society to challenge corporate actions, especially in the context of combating the climate crisis. This ruling is important as it underscores the challenges companies face when initiating legal actions based on claims of misinformation, particularly in environmental contexts. It also reinforces the critical importance of clarity and precision in legal proceedings to ensure a fair and effective defense for all parties involved.

As the climate movement and its related legal landscape continue to evolve, this milestone ruling marks a significant point in shaping the dynamics of environmental lawsuits and underscores the importance of carefully following procedural standards to ensure transparency and accountability in both corporate and environmental sectors.

The decision is seen as a setback for oil and gas giants, signaling that judicial intimidation against civil society may not succeed. This case, along with other pending lawsuits against environmental groups like Shell-Greenpeace UK and Greenpeace International, and ENI-Greenpeace Italy, points to a broader trend.

Thus, the dismissal of TotalEnergies’ lawsuit emphasizes the importance of protecting fundamental freedoms and the right to hold companies accountable for their environmental practices.

In conclusion, the recent Paris Judicial Court ruling, rejecting TotalEnergies’ lawsuit, has resulted in a victory for Greenpeace France. This judicial decision holds significant importance in the context of environmental disputes and lawsuits based on misinformation allegations. It underscores the critical importance of clarity and precision in legal proceedings to ensure a fair and equitable process for all parties involved.

Additionally, this landmark ruling indicates a potential shift in legal strategies and approaches to resolving such disputes, emphasizing the increasing scrutiny and accountability required in matters related to environmental impact. Despite legal challenges, Greenpeace remains committed to its mission of advocating for environmental protection and holding the industry accountable for its contributions to climate change, stating that it will continue its campaign until companies cease harmful practices and take responsibility for their role in the climate crisis