February 15, 2019, North Dakota – Late yesterday, a federal judge dismissed all claims in a sprawling $900 million dollar lawsuit filed against Krystal Two Bulls, an Oglala Lakota and Northern Cheyenne organizer, Greenpeace, and others, by Energy Transfer— the corporation behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Energy Transfer’s lawsuit unsuccessfully attempted to recharacterize lawful advocacy and protests against the pipeline as unlawful racketeering under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
“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 after learning of her victory. “Not only was my right to free speech upheld by this decision, but also my rights as an Indigenous woman to steward this land. Now, more than ever, we ALL need our rights to share our voices uplifted, supported and protected.”
In the decision, Judge Billy Roy Wilson noted: “[d]onating to people whose cause you support does not create a RICO enterprise… Posting articles written by people with similar beliefs does not create a RICO enterprise.”
“Justice has been served,” said Greenpeace USA General Counsel, Tom Wetterer. “This is a huge victory not just for Greenpeace but for anyone and everyone who has ever stood up against powerful corporate interests. Today’s decision to dismiss Energy Transfer’s baseless lawsuit against Greenpeace and others sends a clear message to companies trying to muzzle civil society that corporate overreach will not be tolerated. It is also a check on corporate efforts to silence dissent.” Greenpeace defendants in the case are represented in court by the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.
Lawyers say the lawsuit was a textbook example of a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or SLAPP, a form of legal bullying. The goal of a SLAPP is not to win, but 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 Judge’s swift dismissal suggests that the federal judiciary may be losing patience with these abusive tactics.
The decision is a victory for the Protect the Protest Task Force, created in 2018 to end the use of SLAPPs against those working in the public interest. Members of Protect the Protest have rallied in support of the targets of Energy Transfer’s SLAPP.
The racketeering case dismissed today is the second SLAPP lawsuit filed by Trump’s go-to law firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, against Greenpeace and other environmental and indigenous rights activists. In 2016, represented by Kasowitz, Resolute Forests Products filed a similar SLAPP suit for CAD$300 million. Last month, a federal judge dismissed the vast majority of the lawsuit, including the RICO claims.
For more information about this and other SLAPPs against those working in the public interest, please visit Protect the Protest’s website at www.protecttheprotest.org or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.
Protect the Protest is a campaign to erase the threat that SLAPP lawsuits pose to free speech and the ability of nonprofit organizations to advocate for a better world. Our organizations work on different issues, but we are all threatened by these shameless tactics. Together, we will protect our right to speak out, to criticize, to engage, and to protest.