Groups Demand Sanctions Against Dakota Access Pipeline Attorneys

Law Firms Abused Legal Process by Trying to Sue an Entire Social Movement

January 10, 2018, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Earth First! Journal served a motion for sanctions on Donald Trump’s law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres, which is representing corporations developing the Dakota Access Pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and Energy Transfer Equity (ETE) named the environmental philosophy “Earth First!” as a defendant in a federal racketeering lawsuit, but subsequently filed papers acknowledging that Earth First! is a “non-entity” with “no members” or “formal leadership.” The corporations attempted to serve Earth First! by mailing the complaint to the address of an environmental publication Earth First! Journal. Given the inherent impossibility of suing a philosophy or social movement, CCR has begun the process of asking the court to impose sanctions for violations of civil procedure rules.

Earth First! Journal is a small collective typically made up of two to five staff members, and is not mentioned in ETP’s complaint. “These corporations’ real goal is to shut down activism that defends the environment and challenges their agenda,” said Earth First! Journal editor Ryan Hartman. “They can't sue a social movement, so they are purposefully misusing the law to try and scare us away from printing news about their deadly pipeline projects. It's not working.”

As sanctions, CCR has requested attorneys’ fees and an order from the judge requiring Kasowitz Benson Torres and co-counsel 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.

“By attempting to serve their ludicrous lawsuit on our client, Earth First! Journal, these companies and their lawyers failed to follow basic legal principles typically taught during the first semester of law school,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol. “Either they need to go back to school, or they’re purposefully abusing the legal process to suppress protected speech.”

The corporations’ lawsuit alleges, without any factual support, 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 is part of a sprawling conspiracy 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.                                                                     

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 and follow @efjournal.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


Last modified 

January 10, 2018