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21 Nov 2017

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