Federal court to decide on free speech case against Stand.earth, Greenpeace

Case has serious implications for the future of advocacy work in the United States.

SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will decide after June 15, 2018 whether or not to dismiss Resolute Forest Products’ baseless racketeering lawsuit against Stand.earth, three Greenpeace entities, and five individual staff members of these independent organizations after today’s hearing on an amended complaint.

This court already dismissed the entire case and ordered Resolute Forest Products to pay some of defendants’ legal fees in October 2017. However, the logging company decided to file a repackaged version of the same Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) three weeks later. District Judge Jon S. Tigar wrote in his order dismissing the case in October that “the defendants’ speech constituted the expression of opinion, or different viewpoints that [are] a vital part of our democracy.” 

This free speech case has serious implications for the future of advocacy work in the United States. Free speech advocates packed the courtroom during today’s proceedings. 

Walking out of the courthouse after the hearing, attorneys for some of the defendants said:

“Corporations like Resolute are losing in the court of public opinion — so their new tactic is to file sham lawsuits asking a judge to redeem them in a court of law. SLAPP suits are a losing tactic, and we expect the court to toss out this lawsuit — for a second time. Hopefully, Resolute — and other corporations making futile attempts to silence those who disagree with profiting off of environmental destruction — will realize that frivolous lawsuits like this only waste the court’s time and their money. Corporate attacks on free speech and dissent will only empower and grow the resistance against them.” -Lauren Regan, Co-Counsel, Stand.earth

“We remain confident that today’s hearing will lead to a decision dismissing this baseless case for good. A court decision upholding free speech and advocacy work in the United States should send a strong signal to Resolute and other companies attempting to muzzle civil society, like Energy Transfer Partners. Abusive lawsuits won’t stop advocacy groups from calling out activities that harm communities and the planet. Instead of wasting time and money on suing Greenpeace and others, Resolute could have been investing its resources into better conserving the forest and meeting global demand for sustainable forest products.” -Tom Wetterer, General Counsel, Greenpeace USA

Other free speech advocates familiar with the case said: 

“SLAPP lawsuits like Resolute's against Greenpeace pose serious and fundamental threats to protest, free expression, and any organization that seeks to hold the powerful to account — including news organizations. Although Greenpeace is an advocacy organization, Resolute's lawsuits also have chilling implications for brave journalism and press freedom. Such defamation lawsuits are an increasingly prevalent tactic wielded against both advocacy groups and the press in attempts to retaliate against entities that publish critical speech, drain them of resources, and intimidate them into silence.” -Camille Fassett, Reporter, Freedom of the Press Foundation

"Lawsuits designed to punish, intimidate, and derail public participation are anti-democratic. It's done by corporate bullies like Resolute and Energy Transfer Partners, which hire mercenaries with law degrees. New York Justice Nicholas Colabella remarked that, short of a gun to the head, one can scarcely image a greater threat to First Amendment expression than SLAPP suits." -James Wheaton, Founder and Senior Counsel, First Amendment Project

"Corporate power should never be able to silence any American's First Amendment right to free speech — especially when the future of the planet and people's access to a healthy environment is threatened." -Katie Redford, Co-Founder and Director, EarthRights International

Notes to editors

[1] Resolute’s U.S. case: On May 31, 2016 Resolute Forest Products filed a CAD$300 million lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and other claims in the United States District Court for Southern Georgia, against Greenpeace International, Greenpeace, Inc., Greenpeace Fund, Inc., Stand.earth (formerly ForestEthics), and five individual staff members of these independent organizations. 

The case was transferred to Northern California on May 16, 2017 when Resolute failed to demonstrate that the case should be heard in Georgia. On October 16, 2017 the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed all of Resolute’s claims. Three weeks later, Resolute’s lawyers filed a repackaged version of the same meritless claims against the same individual defendants in the same court.

On May 11, 2018, Greenpeace and Stand.earth filed their final responses to Resolute’s repackaged version of the claims dismissed by the court in October 2017.

[2] Resolute’s Canadian case: In 2013, Resolute filed a CAD$7 million defamation case against Greenpeace Canada and two staff members in Ontario, Canada. This case is still pending despite large portions having been already dismissed by Canadian courts. Greenpeace Canada continues to vigorously fight the remaining claims.

[3] Energy Transfer Partners’ case: In August 2017, the same law firm representing Resolute filed a US$900 million lawsuit against Greenpeace and others under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) on behalf of Energy Transfer Partners, the builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline. This is the second strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) filed by Kasowitz Benson Torres LLC against Greenpeace entities, claiming that the groups’ environmental advocacy work is a criminal enterprise. Kasowitz Benson Torres LLC is President Donald Trump’s go-to law firm.

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Media contact: Virginia Cleaveland, virginia@stand.earth, 510-858-9902