Greenpeace is seeking to move a lawsuit alleging it conspired against the Dakota Access oil pipeline from North Dakota state court to federal court, where the environmental group has already prevailed against racketeering claims alleged by the pipeline’s developer.
Greenpeace wants a federal judge to throw out the latest claims of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, which the group alleges are a “duplicative” attack on free speech and political advocacy.
“Plaintiff’s relentless vendetta risks chilling the advocacy of Greenpeace and other environmental groups, and if adopted more broadly by big industry as a strategy, has more ominous implications for advocates across the political spectrum who face large corporations with deep pockets,” attorney Derrick Braaten wrote in a recent filing.
ETP alleges Greenpeace and activists conspired to use illegal and violent means such as arson, harassment and misleading information to disrupt pipeline construction and damage the company’s reputation and finances, all the while using the highly publicized and prolonged protest to enrich themselves through donations.
Groups and American Indian tribes who feared environmental harm from the pipeline staged large protests that resulted in 761 arrests in southern North Dakota over a six-month span beginning in late 2016. The pipeline that ETP maintains is safe began moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to a shipping point in Illinois in June 2017.
ETP sued Greenpeace and others in federal court two months later, making claims under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and also under North Dakota laws. U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson eventually ordered the company to amend what he criticized as a “vague” lawsuit and ultimately dismissed the case in February, saying there was no evidence of a coordinated criminal enterprise that worked to undermine ETP and the pipeline.
Wilson did not rule on the state claims, however, and ETP sued in state court a week later. Greenpeace didn’t directly comment on whether it considers federal court a friendlier venue but intimated that might be a reason for trying to move the lawsuit there.
“It’s essentially the same case that was previously filed there,” Greenpeace attorney Tom Wetterer told The Associated Press.
Braaten in court filings alleges ETP’s current “convoluted suit” is really aimed at saddling Greenpeace with “extraordinary litigation costs” and silencing the group’s public criticism.
Before a federal judge decides the merits of the case he or she must first rule on Greenpeace’s technical argument for moving the case back to federal court. The group cites a federal law stipulating federal courts have jurisdiction over cases in which the plaintiffs and defendants are in different states. ETP attorney Lawrence Bender argues in court documents that is not the case, and he asks that the suit be sent back to state court.
Greenpeace also cites a provision in the law that says federal courts have jurisdiction in cases in which the amount in question exceeds $75,000. ETP in its state lawsuit asks for damages “in an amount to be proven at trial,” but Greenpeace counters that the company elsewhere in its lawsuit states it “seeks to recover the millions of dollars of damages” allegedly caused by the defendants. Bender did not immediately respond to a request for comment.