Court Should Sanction Pipeline Lawyers, Rights Attorneys Say

Contact: press@ccrjustice.org

Dakota Access Lawyers Abused Legal System to Stifle Advocacy, Sanctions Motion Argues


February 6, 2018, New York –
Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Earth First! Journal urged a federal court to impose sanctions against Donald Trump’s go-to law firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres, which represents corporations developing the Dakota Access Pipeline. The sanctions motion claims that Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and Energy Transfer Equity (ETE) misused the legal system by suing “Earth First!” for federal racketeering, despite knowing that “Earth First!” is a philosophy or an idea, not an entity that can be sued. The corporations then attempted to serve “Earth First!” by mailing the complaint to the address of an environmental publication, Earth First! Journal, which is not named in the lawsuit.  

Last month, CCR served Kasowitz Benson Torres and its co-counsel the Vogel Law Firm with the motion, as the primary rule governing sanctions requires that the offending lawyers receive advance notice of a sanctions motion in order to give them the opportunity to withdraw their improperly filed papers. Kasowitz Benson Torres and the Vogel Law Firm have not done so, though the Vogel firm subsequently withdrew from representing the corporations, without explanation. Today CCR filed the motion in court.

“Trump’s lawyers were given an opportunity to withdraw papers they knew were improper and avoid sanctions,” said Earth First! Journal editor Ryan Hartman. “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.

“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,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol. “We are optimistic the court will make clear that it does not tolerate such abuses of the legal system.”

The corporations’ lawsuit alleges a bizarre and sprawling conspiracy claiming that Earth First! funded a violent terrorist presence at the Standing Rock protests, with $500,000 and proceeds from drug sales on the site, and acted in collaboration with Greenpeace and other environmental groups to deceive the public about the environmental risks of pipelines. Civil rights attorneys describe the allegations as “fanciful.” Two other environmental groups, Greenpeace and BankTrack, have asked the judge to dismiss the case on free speech grounds. CCR and the Journal say the lawsuit is part of a broader effort to label activism as “terrorism,” from environmental and animal rights activism to Black Lives Matter.                                                                     

Read the motion filed today here. For more information, visit CCR’s case page.

The Earth First! Journal is a quarterly magazine. Each issue contains reports on direct action in defense of the environment, articles on the preservation of wilderness and biological diversity, and news about Earth First! and other radical environmental movements. The Earth First! Journal Collective also publishes a quarterly newsletter and online Newswire. Visit earthfirstjournal.org and follow @efjournal.


The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Last modified 

February 7, 2018