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Court Urged To Sanction Dakota Access Pipeline Lawyers For Suing ‘Earth First!’ Movement, Abusing Legal System

The Center for Constitutional Rights asked a federal court to sanction Energy Transfer Partners and Energy Transfer Equity for “misusing” the legal system when it sued “Earth First!” for “federal racketeering” to suppress activism against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Kasowitz Benson Torres, the law firm which represents President Donald Trump, attempted to sue the movement, Earth First!, in August. However, “Earth First!” is an idea that cannot be sued.

Nevertheless, the law firm sent a complaint to Earth First! Journal, even though the publication was not named in the lawsuit.

Sanctions, according to CCR, require lawyers accused of offenses receive “advance notice” of a motion so they have an opportunity to withdraw “improperly filed papers.” CCR served Kasowitz Benson Torres, as well as Vogel Law Firm (a co-counsel), with a sanctions motion.

The lawsuit was not withdrawn, but without explanation, Vogel Law Firm no longer represents Energy Transfer Partners or Energy Transfer Equity.

“Massive corporations have the financial resources to file frivolous lawsuits and crush advocacy through the sheer weight of litigation, even if they do not ultimately win in court,” CCR senior staff attorney Rachel Meeropol suggested.

Earth First! Journal editor Ryan Hartman stated, “Trump’s lawyers were given an opportunity to withdraw papers they knew were improper and avoid sanctions. Their refusal leaves no doubt that the aim of this lawsuit is not to address racketeering, but to scare activists opposing pipelines into silence. It’s not working.”

CCR has requested attorneys’ fees and an order from the judge requiring Kasowitz Benson Torres and the Vogel Law Firm to share in writing with each of their attorneys the relevant Federal Rule of Civil Procedure and case law indicating that ideas and social movements cannot be sued.

As previously reported, the filings on behalf of the energy corporations acknowledge Earth First! is not an organization. They recognized it had no structure or leadership. It is a “convenient banner” and anyone can “just use that name.”

Their suit failed to articulate “how such a broad-based social movement, lacking formal membership or entity structure of any kind, [could] be amenable to [a] suit.”

Prior attempts to sue movements, like Black Lives Matter, failed because no one can sue a social movement. There is no reason anyone should be able to sue the Earth First! movement.

Dozens upon dozens of wild allegations were made against “Earth First!”—all of which were intended to suppress involvement in environmental activism, which is generally protected under the First Amendment.

CCR’s request for sanctions argues the energy corporations “failed to perform the most rudimentary factual and legal research regarding Earth First!’s capacity to be sued before they filed the Complaint and pressed forward with their claims against Earth First!, despite knowing that it lacked capacity to be sued.”

“Plaintiffs have recklessly or purposefully disregarded the obvious facts that Earth First! is not a ‘putative nonprofit corporation organized under the laws of Florida,’ CCR adds.

The request for sanctions further notes:

Even if plaintiffs had investigated and addressed Earth First!’s capacity to be sued, which they did not, any contention that Plaintiffs might advance that Earth First! has capacity to be sued is belied by their own evidence. Plaintiffs and their counsel were in control of what they chose to file in support of their motion, and the evidence they elected to introduce demonstrates that Earth First! is “not an organization” at all, but rather a “philosophy” or “movement.”

CCR demands the energy corporations and their counsel pay attorneys’ fees that were incurred in defending Earth First! Journal from a frivolous lawsuit and that Kasowitz Benson Torres and Vogel Law Firm email all lawyers at firms to inform them that “ideas and social movements, such as the Earth First! philosophy, lack capacity to be sued in federal court” and the “information is being transmitted as a court-ordered sanction.”

“We are optimistic the court will make clear that it does not tolerate such abuses of the legal system,” Meeropol said.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."