White Hat v. Landry

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

May 22, 2019

Current Status 

Plaintiffs have challenged the constitutionality of Louisiana's anti-protest law in federal court. In July 2020, Plaintiffs moved to file a supplemental complaint.

Co-Counsel 

Bill Quigley

Client(s) 

Anne White Hat, Ramon Mejía, Sharon Lavigne, Harry Joseph, Karen Savage, Katherine Aaslestad, Peter Aaslestad, Theda Larson Wright, Alberta Larson Stevens, Judith Larson Hernandez, Rise St. James, 350 New Orleans, and Louisiana Bucket Brigade

Case Description 

In 2018, the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association (LMOGA) drafted and proposed an amendment to Louisiana’s Critical Infrastructure law, which was passed by the legislature, that is so vague, overly broad, and sweeping in scope that people in the state cannot be sure of where in the vicinity of Louisiana’s vast 125,000-mile network of pipelines they can legally be present, who decides where they can be present, or what conduct is prohibited that can subject them to up to five years in prison, with or without hard labor. The aim of the amended version of the law is to chill, and harshly punish, speech and expression in opposition to pipeline projects LMOGA promotes.

The amended statute, La. R.S. 14:61, is unconstitutional on its face and as applied because: 1) it is vague, as it does not provide adequate notice to plaintiffs and others  as well as state actors who must enforce the law of what conduct is prohibited and where, and it allows for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement; 2) it is overbroad and has the effect of chilling constitutionally protected speech or expression; and 3) targets speech and expressive conduct with a particular viewpoint for harsher punishment.

As of August 1, 2018, the definition of critical infrastructure includes the network of pipelines running through Louisiana, the overwhelming majority of which is not visible or clearly marked. Landowners with pipelines running through their properties, pedestrians walking along public roads, sidewalks, or other public spaces that may have pipelines running underneath, recreational boaters and commercial vessels in waters through which pipelines may run, now cannot be sure of where they can lawfully remain present, what conduct is prohibited, when, where, or why it is prohibited, or even who determines whether it is prohibited and how. Yet they face a sentence of up to five years in prison, with or without hard labor, for being on or near a type of critical infrastructure that could be completely invisible and virtually anywhere.

Before August 1, 2018, those who engaged in peaceful demonstrations or civil disobedience in the vicinity of pipelines or pipeline construction sites faced the possibility of a misdemeanor charge of trespass if they remained on the property without permission. As of August 1, 2018, they now face felony charges and up to $1,000 in fines.

On August 9, 2018, days after the law went into effect, the first criminal charges were levelled against Water Protectors – demonstrators non-violently protesting the Bayou Bridge pipeline from kayaks in a navigable waterway. More arrests and felony charges against demonstrators followed under the newly amended law over the next several weeks. Those arrested included people canoeing in navigable waters, people observing and sitting in trees, as well as a journalist.

As of the date of this filing, there have been more than a dozen arrests of people peacefully protesting against a pipeline project who were charged with felonies for acts that would have been charged as misdemeanor trespass before August 1, 2018 – and only if in fact those arrested did not have permission or a legal right to remain on the property in the first place. They now face the possibility of prosecution and, if found guilty, up to five years in prison and heavy fines.

The Louisiana law emerged as part of a national trend of similar legislation pursued by oil and gas interests, and supported by groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), aimed at cracking down on and chilling protests against fossil fuel infrastructure projects, which are taking place as part of an important national debate about the worsening environment and climate crisis. It is therefore no accident that the law was invoked immediately after its passage by a private security company working in tandem with local law enforcement at the behest of a private oil pipeline company.

Case Timeline

October 1, 2020
Plaintiffs file reply brief in support of their motion to reconsider
October 1, 2020
Plaintiffs file reply brief in support of their motion to reconsider
Plaintiffs file a reply brief in support of their motion to reconsider the district court's dismissal of the claims against the Louisiana Attorney General.
September 26, 2020
Plaintiffs file opposition to motions to reconsider filed by defendants
September 26, 2020
Plaintiffs file opposition to motions to reconsider filed by defendants
September 17, 2020
Louisiana Attorney General files opposition to plaintiffs' motion to reconsider
September 17, 2020
Louisiana Attorney General files opposition to plaintiffs' motion to reconsider
August 27, 2020
Plaintiffs file motion to reconsider district court's dismissal of claims against Louisiana Attorney General
August 27, 2020
Plaintiffs file motion to reconsider district court's dismissal of claims against Louisiana Attorney General
August 26, 2020
Defendant District Attorney Bo Duhe files motion to reconsider district court's denial of his motion to dismiss
August 26, 2020
Defendant District Attorney Bo Duhe files motion to reconsider district court's denial of his motion to dismiss
Defendant District Attorney Bo Duhe files a motion to reconsider the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss for lack of standing and Younger abstention.
August 21, 2020
Defendant Sheriff Ronald Theriot files motion to reconsider district court's denial of his motions to dismiss
August 21, 2020
Defendant Sheriff Ronald Theriot files motion to reconsider district court's denial of his motions to dismiss
Defendant Sheriff Ronald Theriot files a motion to reconsider the district court's denial of his motions to dismiss for lack of standing and Younger abstention.
August 19, 2020
Plaintiffs file reply memorandum in support of their motion to supplement complaint
August 19, 2020
Plaintiffs file reply memorandum in support of their motion to supplement complaint
July 30, 2020
District court denies in part and grants in part defendants' motions to dismiss
July 30, 2020
District court denies in part and grants in part defendants' motions to dismiss
The district court denies in part and grants in part defendants' motions to dismiss when it dismisses claims against Louisiana Attorney General under Younger, transfers the venue to the Western District of Louisiana, and denies the motions in all other respects.
July 27, 2020
Defendants oppose plaintiffs' motion to supplement complaint
July 27, 2020
Defendants oppose plaintiffs' motion to supplement complaint
Defendants oppose Plaintiffs' motion to Supplement the Complaint with new incidents that arose after the original complaint was filed
July 6, 2020
Plaintiffs move to file supplemental complaint
July 6, 2020
Plaintiffs move to file supplemental complaint
Sept. 16 - Oct. 7, 2019
Defendants file motions to dismiss, plaintiffs file opposition briefing
Sept. 16 - Oct. 7, 2019
Defendants file motions to dismiss, plaintiffs file opposition briefing
On September 16, 2019, defendants, the Louisiana attorney general and a local district attorney and sheriff, move to dismiss the complaint on the basis of sovereign immunity, venue, standing, and failure to state a claim. On October 7, we file our briefs in opposition to these motions, asserting that the federal court can exercise jurisdiction over the attorney general and the claims, the venue is proper, and all of the plaintiffs have standing and have thoroughly stated valid claims for relief from the unconstitutional statute.
May 22, 2019
Complaint filed in federal court
May 22, 2019
Complaint filed in federal court