BISMARCK, N.D.—A federal judge has dismissed a second defendant from a $1 billion racketeering lawsuit that the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline filed against environmental groups, leaving Greenpeace as the only remaining group facing the claim.
Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners failed to make a case that Earth First is an entity that can be sued, U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson said in a ruling dated Wednesday.
The Center for Constitutional Rights had argued that Earth First is a philosophy or movement similar to Black Lives Matter, and thus can't be sued. ETP unsuccessfully tried to serve the lawsuit to Florida-based Earth First Journal, which argued that it wasn't the same as the movement.
Wilson said that rather than clarifying the matter, an amended complaint filed by ETP earlier this month was "wholly insufficient" in advancing its case under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act that Earth First "allegedly provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund an international terrorist, drug-smuggling RICO enterprise."
Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Pamela Spees applauded the ruling, calling the lawsuit "far-fetched." ETP officials have said the company doesn't comment on active litigation.
ETP sued Earth First, BankTrack and Greenpeace last August, alleging that they worked to undermine the $3.8 billion pipeline that's now shipping North Dakota oil to a distribution point in Illinois. Opposition to the pipeline by groups and American Indian tribes who feared environmental harm inspired large protests in southern North Dakota and resulted in 761 arrests over a six-month span in late 2016 and early 2017.
Last month, Wilson ruled that the company had no claim against BankTrack. The Dutch environmental group had urged banks not to finance the pipeline, which Wilson concluded did not amount to radical ecoterrorism.
Wilson gave Greenpeace until Sept. 4 to file its response to ETP's amended complaint, which added five individual defendants: a man who is 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. There are also 20 unnamed defendants listed as John or Jane Does. Wilson on Wednesday gave company attorneys 30 days to identify them or have them dismissed as defendants.