BISMARCK, N.D. – The developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline on Monday 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.
The latest blow to the lawsuit came Friday, when 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 on Monday 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.
"We are confident this move to include even more bogus claims in an already broad and baseless case will be the final nail in the coffin of a sham legal tactic," said Greenpeace attorney Deepa Padmanabha.
ETP initially sued Greenpeace, BankTrack and Earth First, alleging the "rogue eco-terrorist groups" worked to undermine the $3.8 billion pipeline that's now moving oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The groups said the lawsuit was an attack on free speech, and Earth First also maintained it's an unstructured social movement similar to Black Lives Matter and can't be sued.
Wilson on July 24 dismissed BankTrack for lack of evidence, a day after he had ordered ETP to show why Earth First shouldn't be tossed. Company attorneys countered that Earth First should be held accountable for "eco-terrorist activities" and argued that ETP at the very least should be given permission to add the Florida-based Earth First Journal to the lawsuit.
The company had tried earlier to serve the lawsuit on the Journal, but the publication effectively argued it was not the same as the movement.
Wilson on Friday 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.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the Journal, issued a statement praising Wilson's ruling. Journal Editor Grayson Flory said ETP "is trying to distract us from their continued destruction of communities and the environment by concocting an elaborate story."
The company alleges the groups disseminated false and misleading information about the pipeline, interfered with construction and company business, facilitated terrorism, incited violence, targeted financial institutions that backed the project, and violated racketeering laws.
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.
"It is clear ... that plaintiffs did not, at the time of filing, have evidentiary support for the specific allegations against (Earth First)," Wilson wrote.
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