A federal judge on the United States District Court for Northern California in San Francisco dismissed a logging company’s lawsuit against Greenpeace and a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit called Stand, who it accused of libel and racketeering.
The October 16 decision came in a case in which Resolute Forest Products, a Canadian paper and pulp company, claimed the groups had engaged in a “disinformation campaign,” starting in 2012, concerning the company’s logging practices in the boreal forest of northern and western Canada to boost their own fundraising. As described in court documents, Greenpeace went so far as to label Resolute, a “forest destroyer.”
Libel and Racketeering Claims
In their campaign, Greenpeace claimed Resolute, one of the largest producers of newsprint in North America, had destroyed Canada’s Boreal forest and woodland caribou habitat. In return, Resolute named Greenpeace International, Greenpeace USA, Greenpeace Fund Inc., advocacy group STAND, and others in the lawsuit. The company’s lawsuit claimed Greenpeace has published “whopping lies … misrepresenting Resolute’s harvesting as a major climate change risk.”
The suit against Greenpeace was unusual because it made use of the 1970 federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO.
The company said Greenpeace and the other groups involved in the campaign against it were colluding to harm its business and had cost the company more than $100 million in lost business. Resolute’s suit alleged defamation, malicious falsehood and intentional interference with economic relations and sought damages of $5 million as well as punitive damages of $2 million, legal costs, and the amount of lost business.
Hyperbole Not Libel
In tossing Resolute’s lawsuit, Judge Jon S. Tigar said Resolute is a “public figure” and under U.S. Supreme Court rulings, a “public figure” who is suing for libel must prove not only that the person or group being sued statements were false and damaging, but also they were knowingly or recklessly false. Tigar said Resolute had failed to offer evidence of lies or reckless falsehoods by the environmental groups.
According to Tigar when Greenpeace called the company “forest destroyer” it was not a literal accusation but commonplace hyperbole, and other contested statements made by the environmentalists are based on Greenpeace’s own scientific research, and as such “The academy, and not the courthouse, is the appropriate place to resolve scientific disagreements,” wrote Tigar.
Lawsuits a ‘Positive Development’
After Resolute filed its lawsuit, in August 2017, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, filed a second, similar lawsuit against Greenpeace and two other groups. ETP’s lawsuit accuses Greenpeace International, Earth First!, and other groups of inciting terrorist acts and vandalism in order to generate publicity and raise money for their causes while damaging its ability to raise money for projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline. ETP engaged Kasowitz Benson Torres, LLP, the same New York law firm that represents Resolute, to sue Greenpeace and the other groups for damages under RICO. ETP’s case was not affected by Tigar’s ruling and is ongoing.
Peter Ferrara, a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says it is a positive development companies like Resolute and Energy Transfer Partners are finally fighting back legally against the actions of environmental groups.
“It’s very encouraging their lawyers think there is a viable legal case for them to make,” said Ferrara. “Hopefully a good precedent or two will produce a landslide of preemptive litigation on their behalf.
Courts should recognize the strong public interest in companies continued operations and production says Ferrara.
“Consumers of their products of course have an interest in their output, but also workers and unions have an interest in the jobs and increasing wages they can provide,” Ferrara said “There is a public interest in their output for poor and low income families, who need both the job opportunities such companies provide and the lower cost products that result from their ongoing operations.
“Courts should recognize this and not accept the one sided tunnel vision of environmental extremists,” said Ferrara. “It is not in America’s interest to go back to the Middle Ages economically.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.