A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against a Dutch nonprofit that wrote letters to banks urging them to stop financing the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The pipeline developer, Energy Transfer Partners, sued BankTrack, Greenpeace and other defendants in August, alleging they conspired in an international criminal enterprise to interfere with pipeline construction.
The claims against BankTrack, a nonprofit based in The Netherlands that uses public pressure to stop banks from financing projects with which it disagrees, were dismissed Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson wrote that Energy Transfer Partners’ application of federal racketeering laws to BankTrack is “dangerously broad.”
“While the complaint vaguely attempts to connect BankTrack to acts of ‘radical eco-terrorist,’ an international drug distribution and money laundering enterprise, and violations of the Patriot Act, BankTrack’s actual conduct in this case was allegedly writing a few letters to financial institutions and posting links to the letters on its website,” wrote Wilson.
Wilson added that while unassociated individuals and groups may have used arson and violence to prevent pipeline construction, BankTrack’s letter-writing is not “reasonably or plausibly” related to these activities.
In a news release Wednesday, BankTrack called the lawsuit a classic example of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation that seeks to stifle free speech.
“We hope the judge will now similarly dismiss the case against the other defendants, and that the ringing rejection of this case will discourage other corporations from launching these kinds of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation,” BankTrack Director Johan Frijns said in a statement.
The pipeline company’s claims against Greenpeace International, Greenpeace Inc., Greenpeace Fund and Earth First, seeking damages up to $1 billion, are still pending.
However, Judge Wilson also ruled this week that the Energy Transfer Partners failed to properly serve the legal complaint to Earth First, which has been described in court documents as an unstructured social movement. Wilson gave the pipeline developer until Aug. 1 to demonstrate why claims against Earth First should not be dismissed.
Energy Transfer Partners alleged that the defendants incited, funded and facilitated crimes and acts of terrorism to fraudulently induce donations, interfere with pipeline construction and damage the pipeline developer’s business and financial relationships.