BISMARCK, N.D. (CN) – A federal judge in North Dakota dismissed a $900 million racketeering and defamation lawsuit against environmental group Greenpeace by the company that built a nearly 1,200-mile crude oil pipeline across four states.
Energy Transfer’s action stemmed from Greenpeace’s part in the protests of the building of the Dakota Access pipeline. The builder claimed negative publicity it garnered as a result of the protests caused billions of dollars in damages.
But U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson found Energy Transfer’s claims that Greenpeace’s supposed posting of misinformation in articles did not rise to the level of racketeering under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO.
“Posting articles written by people with similar beliefs does not create a RICO enterprise,” Wilson wrote, adding that neither does giving donations to nongovernmental organizations like Greenpeace.
Greenpeace applauded Wilson’s ruling.
“Justice has been served. This is a huge victory not just for Greenpeace but for anyone and everyone who has ever stood up against powerful corporate interests,” said Greenpeace USA general counsel Tom Wetterer. “The decision to dismiss Energy Transfer’s baseless lawsuit against Greenpeace and others sends a clear message to companies trying to muzzle civil society that corporate overreach will not be tolerated. It is also a check on corporate efforts to silence dissent.”
Wilson previously dismissed RICO claims against fellow nonprofits Earth First and BankTrack. While he didn’t dismiss the case against Greenpeace at that time, he called the suit “dangerously broad.”
After being dismissed, BankTrack called Energy Transfer’s lawsuit a textbook case of an anti-SLAPP suit and a thinly disguised attack upon free speech.
Wetterer used Friday’s dismissal to look ahead at other pipeline projects, including the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana – also owned by Energy Transfer – which should be completed soon.
“We must and will continue to hold Energy Transfer accountable for its corporate behavior on current risky pipeline projects like Bayou Bridge, where the company is continuing to use private security to intimidate protestors and has aggressively used eminent domain laws to secure land,” said Wetterer.
“We are confident that this decision will set a precedent that deters Energy Transfer and other corporations from abusing the legal system in their quest to bully those who speak truth to power.”
Energy Transfer spokesperson Lisa Dillinger Coleman said the company is reviewing its options.
“We are disappointed, but because the judge dismissed the state claims without deciding their merits, we intend to assess our options and make a decision shortly on next steps,” she said.
Greenpeace was represented by Davis, Wright, Tremaine.