In what is being called a “landmark” decision, the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota dismissed a case brought by Energy Transfer Partners against Greenpeace and Indigenous activists who were involved with the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).
District Judge Bill Roy Wilson called the case “baseless,” stating: “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.”
Energy Transfer Partners, the fossil fuel corporation behind the controversial DAPL brought the case to court in an attempt to hold water protectors liable under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act for millions of dollars in damages.
“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,” said Greenpeace USA general counsel Tom Wetterer, in a statement that echoed the feelings of many environmentalists. “This is a huge victory not just for Greenpeace but for anyone and everyone who has ever stood up against powerful corporate interests.”
“Loss. Defeat. Dismissal. This is what happens when greedy corporations go after Indigenous women grounded in the power of Prayer, the power of relationship building, and the power of collective organizing,” said Krystal Two Bulls, one of the defendants named in the case.
The construction of the DAPL brought thousands of activists together to protest the pipeline’s route through Native American lands in North Dakota. Although environmentalists’ and Indigenous activists’ efforts were unsuccessful (the project was greenlit by the Trump administration), the protests drew worldwide coverage and have prompted massive responses to subsequent similar oil pipeline projects.
The pipeline, which is now operational, already has a damaging track record of spills with five spills happening within the first six months of operations.
Energy Transfer Partners utilized Trump’s go-to law firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres. The law firm was previously been used in a similar case in 2016 when Resolute Forest Products attempted to get CAD $300 million from public participation (SLAPP). That case was also dismissed.
EarthRights International pointed out that this tactic of corporations taking activists to court is not necessarily to win, but instead to “burden the defendants with costly and time-intensive litigation procedures while creating a chilling effect that discourages others from speaking out on issues of public concern. The group’s statement concluded that the judge’s swift dismissal suggests that the federal judiciary may be losing patience with these abusive tactics.”