BISMARCK, N.D.—A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a US$1 billion racketeering lawsuit that the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline filed against environmental groups and activists, saying he found no evidence of a co-ordinated criminal enterprise.
Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners sued Greenpeace, BankTrack and Earth First in August 2017, alleging the groups worked to undermine the $3.8 billion pipeline that’s now shipping oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The company’s accusations included interfering with its business, facilitating crimes and acts of terrorism, inciting violence, targeting financial institutions that backed the project, and violating defamation and racketeering laws. The groups maintained the lawsuit was an attack on free speech.
U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson last year dismissed Earth First and BankTrack as defendants, saying ETP had failed to make a case that Earth First is a structured entity that can be sued and that BankTrack’s actions in imploring banks not to fund the pipeline did not amount to radical ecoterrorism.
Wilson on Thursday granted motions to dismiss from Greenpeace and individually-named defendants that the company added to the lawsuit last August. The judge said ETP’s claim failed to establish several necessary elements required by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, including that the defendants worked together on a criminal enterprise.
“Donating to people whose cause you support does not create a RICO enterprise,” and “posting articles written by people with similar beliefs does not create a RICO enterprise,” Wilson wrote. Later in his ruling he added that “acting in a manner similar to others, without any sort of agreement or understanding, does not make you part of a RICO enterprise.”
Greenpeace lauded the dismissal of what it said was an attempt by ETP to “bully” those who “advocate for human rights and the planet.”
“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,” Greenpeace USA attorney Tom Wetterer said.
ETP spokeswoman Vicki Granado said the company is disappointed and intends to pursue some claims in state court.
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. ETP maintains the pipeline is safe.