Energy Transfer lawsuit (re Dakota Access Pipeline, USA)

On 22 August 2017, Energy Transfer filed a lawsuit against NGOs and others, including Greenpeace, BankTrack, and Earth First!, in the US District Court of North Dakota over their campaigning around the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Energy Transfer accuses the NGOs of allegedly violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act) through criminal activity and misinformation about the pipeline’s impacts on tribal lands and the environment, and of inflicting financial damage to the company. The NGOs deny the allegations.

The plaintiffs, Energy Transfer Partner and Energy Transfer Equity (both part of Energy Transfer), allege racketeering, conspiracy, defamation, and interference with existing and prospective business relationship. They argue that the pipeline project is mainly located on private lands which was rerouted to avoid sacred and cultural sites, with extensively prior consultation of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The companies maintain that this project provides an efficient, safer and better environmental option to transport oil and avoid oil spills in comparison with other means of transportation. According to Energy Transfer the NGOs misrepresented peaceful protestors in North Dakota and were involved in criminal activities such as civil trespass, rioting, assault, menacing, attacks, and destruction of property. The company is seeking compensatory damages.

The NGOs reject the accusations. They consider that this lawsuit is without merit and that it is an attempt by Energy transfer to silence civil society organizations. Greenpeace said the lawsuit was a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), which is intended to censor or intimidate critics by burdening them with expensive, time-consuming litigation”. 

In November 2017, BankTrack and Greenpeace filed motions with the District Court of North Dakota to have Energy Transfer's claims against them dismissed for lack of merit. In December 2017, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a memorandum asking for the suit against EarthFirst! to be dismissed as it is a "philosophy" or "movement", and in January 2018 served the companies' attorneys with advanced warning of a motion for sanctions for abuse of legal process. On 6 February 2018, the motion was filed in the US District Court of North Dakota.

On 24 July 2018, the North Dakota District Court dismissed Energy Transfer's lawsuit against BankTrack, ruling that the company failed to state a plausible claim against the defendant.  On 3 August 2018, the court blocked Energy Transfer Partners from continuing a lawsuit against the environmental movement Eart First!, and denied the company's petition to include the Earth First Journal as a defendant.  On 6 August 2018, Energy Transfer Partners brought an amended lawsuit, limiting defamation and business interference claims to Greenpeace and adding criminal trespass allegations against all defendants. The amended lawsuit also mentions five new individual defendants, including a man allegedly affiliated with Greenpeace and 2 people associated with the protest group “Red Warrior Camp”.  On 4 September 2018, Greenpeace filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit against them, arguing that Energy Transfer's revised allegations are "generalized and implausible". On 14 February 2019, a federal court in North Dakota dismissed the lawsuit.

In December 2018, Energy Transfer Transfers and Energy Transfer Equity brought a lawsuit against Krystal Two Bulls, a prominent activist opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline. The company alleges that “her calls to action” during the Standing Rock protests also amounted to racketeering under the RICO Act. In February 2019, a judge dismissed the lawsuit.

- "U.S. court dismisses Energy Transfer Partners lawsuit against Greenpeace", Reuters, 14 Feb 2019,
- "Corporate Bullies" Are Using RICO Laws to Go After Greenpeace",  Rebecca Leber, Mother Jones (USA),18 Oct 2017
- "Energy Transfer Suit Claims Greenpeace Incites Eco-Terrorism", Andrew M Harris & Tim Loh, Bloomberg, 22 Aug 2017
- "Dakota Access Pipeline owner sues Greenpeace, arguing it broke organized crime law", Dino Grandoni, Washington Post (USA), 22 Aug 2017

Energy Transfer
Energy Transfer Files Federal Lawsuit Against Greenpeace International, Greenpeace Inc., Greenpeace Fund, Inc., BankTrack And Earth First! For Violation Of Federal And State Racketeering Statutes, 22 Aug 2017

- Federal Court Dismisses $900 Million Pipeline Company Lawsuit Against Greenpeace, 14 Feb 2019
Greenpeace Files Motions to Dismiss in "Meritless" Standing Rock Suit, 29 Nov 2017
- [PDF] United States District Court of North Dakota Western Division  - Motion to dismiss and Memorandum in support, 29 Nov 2017
Greenpeace v. Energy Transfer Partners: The Facts, Aug 2017

- [PDF] United States District Court of North Dakota - Decision on motion to dismiss, 24 July 2018
- [PDF] United States District Court of North Dakota Western Division  - Motion to dismiss, 29 Nov 2017
BankTrack statement on Dakota Access Pipeline lawsuit filed by ETP/ETE, 22 Aug 2017


Court Should Sanction Pipeline Lawyers, Rights Attorneys Say, 6 Feb 2018
Groups Demand Sanctions Against Dakota Access Pipeline Attorneys, 10 Jan 2017
Trump Lawyers Attempt to Sue an Environmental Philosophy under Anti-Racketeering Laws, 5 Dec 2017
Memorandum In Opposition To Plaintiffs’ Motion For Declaration Of Effective Service On Defendant Earth First!, 4 Dec 2017

Earth First!
- [PDF] United States District Court of North Dakota Western Division - Motion for santion, 6 Feb 2017

Vogel Law firm & Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP (Attorneys for plaintiffs)
Energy Transfer Equity, LP., and Energy Transfer Partners, LP. vs. Greenpeace International; Bancktrack; Earth First! & John and Jane Does, 22 Aug 2017

Court documents
- Energy Transfer Equity LP v. Greenpeace International, 14 Feb 2019

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1 March 2019

The Dakota Access Pipeline Company is Abusing the Judicial System to Silent Dissent

Author: Nicola Morrow, ACLU

In a win for free speech, a federal court in North Dakota recently dismissed a baseless$900 million lawsuit brought by the Dakota Access Pipeline company against Greenpeace and a number of individual protesters. The company should have learned its lesson. Instead, it refiled the case in state court...

...This new lawsuit rehashes the same, tired arguments that it presented in federal court, but relies exclusively on state laws.

While the federal court ruled in favor of free speech and common sense, and while the re-filed version of the lawsuit is unlikely to succeed, these cases represent an alarming trend in the suppression of public activism. That’s why the ACLU joined a number of other public interest groups in founding the Protect the Protest Task Force, a coalition dedicated to fighting SLAPP cases.

These unfounded lawsuits attempt to abuse the judicial system in order to suppress constitutionally protected expression by intimidating activists and advocates...

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14 February 2019

Energy Transfer Equity LP v. Greenpeace International, 17-cv-173

Author: US District Court of North Dakota

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14 February 2019

Federal Court Dismisses $900 Million Pipeline Company Lawsuit Against Greenpeace

Author: Greenpeace

Today, the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota issued a landmark dismissal of all claims against all defendants in the USD$900 million case against Greenpeace and others brought by Energy Transfer...

The decision to dismiss this lawsuit, which alleged Greenpeace engaged in racketeering and defamation, sends a strong message to all companies trying to silence civil society with baseless cases. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson wrote in his order dismissing the case that, Posting articles written by people with similar beliefs does not create a RICO enterprise,” and that, “Donating to people whose cause you support does not create a RICO enterprise.”...

“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. Greenpeace will continue to fight for the ability of all people to advocate for human rights and the planet.”[wrote Greenpeace USA General Counsel Tom Wetterer in a letter]...


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14 February 2019

U.S. court dismisses Energy Transfer Partners lawsuit against Greenpeace

Author: Kanishka Singh, Reuters

A federal court in North Dakota has dismissed a lawsuit from Energy Transfer Partners LP against environmental group Greenpeace...

ETP had sued Greenpeace and other environmental groups in 2017, accusing them of racketeering and defamation with the aim of blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline. In the lawsuit, ETP argued that the environmental groups' actions and negative publicity against it, its sister company Energy Transfer Equity LP and other firms caused billions of dollars in damages...

Greenpeace in a statement hailed the dismissal of the lawsuit as a victory and said it sends a signal that “corporate overreach” will not be tolerated.

ETP did not respond to requests for comment outside regular working hours...

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5 November 2018

Commentary: Companies' attempts to silence human rights advocates & attack free speech - Energy Transfer Partners' lawsuit against Greenpeace

Author: Molly Dorozenski, Greenpeace

"7 Things You Need to Know About ETP’s Lawsuit Against Greenpeace", 7 Dec 2017

Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) – the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline – has filed a lawsuit against Greenpeace and others, in its...attempt to silence advocacy work and attack the fundamental right to free speech...Here’s what you need to know about the suit.

1. What is a ‘SLAPP’ suit?

SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.”...The purpose of a SLAPP is to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with legal claims...
2. Why is ETP using a SLAPP?

...ETP is suing Greenpeace for at least USD $900million.  The corporation’s hope is that the prospect of having to pay this...will intimidate Greenpeace and others into silence...

3. This is a worrying trend

...[T]he use of this...tactic by corporations is on the rise...The SLAPP suit is designed to send a loud message so that any activist...that takes on giant corporations will have to think twice before standing up for what they believe in...


6. They’re clutching at straws…

...ETP is using the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)...ETP claims that Greenpeace led a corrupt environmentalist enterprise that “cynically planted radical, violent eco-terrorists on the ground amongst the protesters, and directly funded their operations” – a baseless attempt to mislabel legal advocacy as criminal conduct...

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25 October 2018

Commentary: Fossil fuel cos. push for tougher anti-protest laws to silence environmental activists opposing oil pipeline projects

Author: Mark Hand, ThinkProgress

"With politicians on its side, pipeline company ratchets up intimidation campaign", 22 Oct 2018

...In a new report, the environmental group Greenpeace points out that ETP’s [Energy Transfer Partners]...stance against public protest is occurring as state and federal officials push anti-protest bills.  Several of these bills target individuals protesting infrastructure in places where ETP is currently building pipelines.  Legislative efforts...have been lopsided in favor of the fossil fuel industry, specifically bills supported by fossil fuel companies and designed to punish pipeline protesters.  No bills have been introduced to protect the rights of anti-fossil activists engaging in protests...In response to the Greenpeace report, ETP said, “We all have the right to protest and voice our opinions, but we don’t have the right to break the law.”  The company noted it has security at its construction sites for the safety of its assets, its employees, and those who live and work in the area...

...State officials and lawmakers have welcomed the company’s plans to build new pipelines.  Residents and property owners, on the other hand, have been treated as second-class citizens...As protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline were winding down, ETP’s proposed Bayou Bridge oil pipeline became a new flash point...A Louisiana measure known as the “critical infrastructure” law...has...been used to arrest more than a dozen protesters opposing ETP’s Bayou Bridge pipeline...A local community says the pipeline would hurt public health and leave them vulnerable in case of emergency...

...Greenpeace report...covered a handful of tactics the company [ETP] has used against individuals and organizations opposing its pipelines, including the use of litigation...Energy Transfer filed its first amended complaint on August 6...ETP expanded its legal events unrelated to the original allegations...


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20 September 2018

Dakota Access pipeline developer defends racketeering claims


The company that built the Dakota Access oil pipeline says environmental group Greenpeace should be held legally accountable for violating federal racketeering laws...Greenpeace recently asked to be dismissed from the case, after a federal judge dismissed the other two groups.  But the company argued this week that there was plentiful evidence of "malicious criminal conduct" by Greenpeace.  In court documents filed Tuesday, company attorneys allege that Greenpeace knowingly disseminated false information about the pipeline to obtain donations and incite unrest, including to company lenders and investors to hurt ETP financially.  The company also alleges the environmental group organized and funded a violent protest faction in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act...Greenpeace argued in its dismissal request this month that ETP's claims were "generalized and implausible."...

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5 September 2018

Greenpeace wants Dakota Access racketeering suit dismissed

Author: Blake Nicholson, CNBC (USA)

The lone remaining environmental group facing racketeering accusations by the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline has asked a federal judge to be dismissed from the case.  Greenpeace attorneys on Tuesday filed documents arguing that revised allegations by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act are "generalized and implausible."...U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson...dismissed both BankTrack and Earth First as defendants.  In July, he denied a motion by Greenpeace to be dismissed, as well, but he also ordered ETP to revise the lawsuit that he said contained vague claims.  Company lawyers did so last month.  Greenpeace attorneys maintain that "ETP has utterly failed to follow the court's direction," and that the amended lawsuit "contains much the same inflammatory, insubstantial language" as before.  ETP spokeswoman Vicki Granado declined comment...Company lawyers...asked Wilson to reconsider his late August order that the company identify 20 unnamed individual defendants in its lawsuit within a month or have them dismissed as defendants.  ETP wants the opportunity to gather more evidence to properly identify the people that it alleges played a role in inciting a massive protest against the pipeline while it was being built...

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7 August 2018

USA: Court blocks lawsuit against Earth First! filed by Energy Transfer Partners over campaign opposing Dakota Access pipeline

Author: Center for Constitutional Rights

"Judge Slams Pipeline Corporation for Frivolous Legal Claims Against Activists", 3 Aug 2018

...[A] federal judge blocked Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the corporation behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, from continuing a lawsuit against Earth First!. ETP had filed a...lawsuit, claiming the environmental movement Earth First! had funded a violent terrorist presence and criminal enterprise at the Standing Rock protests...[T]he court rejected ETP’s allegations as factually unsupported.  The judge also blocked ETP’s attempt to collect discovery against the Earth First! Journal, a non-party in the suit...The judge had given ETP until today to provide a sufficient reason why he should not dismiss Earth First! from the lawsuit...After the judge ruled that Earth First! had not been properly served, ETP sought permission to take discovery against Earth First! Journal or amend the complaint to include the Journal as a defendant...Amending the complaint to add Earth First! Journal as a party responsible for an alleged criminal enterprise would be “futile and possibly frivolous,” the judge wrote...

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7 August 2018

USA: Energy Transfer Partners adds more defendants to its lawsuit against NGOs over campaign opposing Dakota Access pipeline

Author: Blake Nicholson, Star Tribune (USA)

"Dakota Access developer amends $1B racketeering lawsuit", 6 Aug 2018

The developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline...amended a $1 billion racketeering lawsuit it filed last August against three environmental entities after a federal judge criticized the original filing as vague and threatened to throw it out of court...U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson said Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners hadn't proven its case against the Earth First environmental movement, though he said it could sue individual members if it had enough evidence...ETP...added five individual defendants: a man allegedly affiliated with Greenpeace, two Iowa women who have publicly claimed to have vandalized the pipeline, and two people associated with the Red Warrior Camp, a protest group alleged to have advocated aggressive tactics such as arson.  The company also amended its accusations, limiting defamation and business interference claims to Greenpeace and adding a criminal trespass count against all defendants...Wilson had ordered ETP to show why Earth First shouldn't be tossed. Company attorneys...argued that ETP...should be given permission to add the...Earth First Journal to the lawsuit.  Wilson...ruled that naming the Journal as a defendant "would be futile and possibly frivolous."  He also denied ETP the opportunity to gather more evidence to prove its case...Wilson said he would allow ETP to add to the lawsuit "any person or entity" directly responsible for such acts, though he added that any additions must be supported by evidence...

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