Federal Court Dismisses RICO and Defamation Lawsuit Against Greenpeace

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Federal Court Dismisses RICO and Defamation Lawsuit Against Greenpeace

"These cases don't seek justice," says Greenpeace USA's general counsel. "They intend to silence free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation."

Greenpeace protest sign

Greenpeace displayed tweets and images on a truck-mounted screen near the Augusta Convention Center in Georgia, where Resolute Forest Products held its annual general meeting in May 2015. (Photo: Todd Bennett/Greenpeace/Flickr)

In a decision that could set a powerful precedent for protecting activists from legal attacks, a federal judge on Monday dismissed all claims in a lawsuit filed by a major Canadian logging company against Greenpeace, Stand.earth, and individual activists, which included claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Resolute Forest Products Inc. filed the $300 million CAD lawsuit in response to the environmentalists' advocacy work in protest of deforestation that results from logging. The activists celebrated the decision, and called for future collaboration between environmental advocates and corporations to protect natural resources.

"The judge's decision to dismiss the case affirms that Resolute's divisive and bullying tactics are a waste of time and resources," said Greenpeace USA senior forest campaigner Daniel Brindis. "It is time for Resolute to finally work with environmental organizations including Greenpeace to address their destructive forestry operations and forge a collaborative and sustainable path forward."

While Greenpeace USA general counsel Tom Wetterer called the ruling "very positive news," he also emphasized that the decision by Resolute's attorneys to file RICO claims was an "attempt to abuse our legal system and silence legitimate criticism on matters of public concern" by using a federal law typically reserved for targeting mobsters—and which even the Justice Department says "was passed by Congress with the declared purpose of seeking to eradicate organized crime in the United States."

"Resolute's claim that organizations and activists committed to the conservation of the forests were part of a criminal enterprise is absurd and a sad symptom of a wider assault on constitutional rights and democracy," said Wetterer. "The logging company's allegations were a clear attempt to silence the voices that advocate for the environment."

Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard wrote in a blog post on Tuesday that if Resolute "had won, Greenpeace USA would likely have been forced to close its doors."

In his decision (pdf), U.S. District Court Judge Jon S. Tigar of California's Northern District dismissed the RICO claims on the grounds that Resolute failed "to plead its RICO claims with the required specificity" and "adequately to allege proximate cause."

Tigar also dismissed Resolute's defamation claims, on the basis that "defendants' speech constituted the expression of opinion, or 'different viewpoints that [are] a vital part of our democracy," and determined that this was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit, which will force Resolute to pay some of defendants' legal fees.

Despite the victory, the Greenpeace also reiterated its commitment to battling similar suits. 

As Common Dreams reported in August, Energy Transfer Partners, the company that owns the contested Dakota Access Pipeline, has hired the same law firm employed by Resolute to file a lawsuit against Greenpeace and other environmental groups for protesting the pipeline in North Dakota.

"Energy Transfer's case repackages many of the spurious allegations and legal claims made against Greenpeace by the Kasowitz firm on behalf of Resolute," said Wetterer, referencing the law firm that is also reportedly representing President Donald Trump in the ongoing federal investigation into allegations that Trump's campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign.

"The decision on the Resolute suit should be a clear indication that Energy Transfer's case has no future," Wetterer said, adding: "These cases don't seek justice. They intend to silence free speech through expensive, time-consuming litigation. This pattern of harassment by corporate bullies led by Trump's go-to attorneys must be stopped in its tracks."

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