Citizen Action Monitor

US federal court dismisses Canadian forest company’s SLAPP lawsuit against two environmental NGOs

Victory delivered a “knockout punch” to Resolute Forest Products’ attempt to intimidate Greenpeace and STAND.earth

No 2079 Posted by fw, October 19, 2017

“Months ago, Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products, Canada’s largest logging company, commenced a highly controversial $300 million lawsuit against two leading environmental organizations, Greenpeace and STAND.earth. The lawsuit was brought under a US federal statute, the “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act” or RICO. As its name suggests, RICO was enacted in Congress with the primary purpose of strengthening criminal and civil penalties against those engaged in organized crime. Among other things, RICO entitles a successful plaintiff to awards of three times the amount of damages that the successful plaintiff has actually sustained. Thus, the consequences for defendants found liable under RICO can be devastating. —Dimitri Lascaris,”The Real News

As it turned out, a California judge dismissed the charges from logging giant Resolute and awarded Greenpeace and STAND.earth their attorneys’ fees, prompting Todd Paglia, executive director of STAND.earth and a defendant in the case to declare:

“It gives you a sense of just how outrageous the court found Resolute’s lawsuit to be that they judged it to be a SLAPP suit as a matter of law and gave attorneys’ fees. If this was our home-run situation, we didn’t even allow ourselves to think it could happen, and it did.”

Below is a repost of Dimitri Lascaris’ 10-minute video interview of Todd Paglia, featuring the embedded video and the transcript with added subheadings. In addition, at the end of this post be sure to follow the link to Resolute’s special website highlighting its spin as the courageous company that “drew a line in the sand” against Greenpeace. Catch it now before Resolute removes it.

This repost of the Paglia interview complements the preceding post, Did citizen’s social media action fend off Enbridge’s attempt to silence anti-pipeline activist group? which tells of the raid on STAND.earth’s Vancouver office by two sheriffs in a bitched attempt to collect on $14,000 in court costs awarded to Enbridge in 2014 legal battle.

The Paglia video interview and transcript is also accessible on The Real News website by clicking on the following linked title.

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California Judge Delivers ‘Knockout Punch’ to RICO Case Against Greens by The Real News, October 18, 2017

A California judge dismissed the charges from logging giant Resolute and awarded Greenpeace and other defendants their attorneys’ fees. ‘It could not have gone any better,’ says Todd Paglia, executive director of STAND.earth and a defendant in the case

TRANSCRIPT

No mean feat for Greenpeace and STAND.earth to emerge winners in a RICO lawsuit

Dimitri Lascaris — This is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News. Months ago, Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products, Canada’s largest logging company, commenced a highly controversial $300 million lawsuit against two leading environmental organizations, Greenpeace and STAND.earth. The lawsuit was brought under a US federal statute, the “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act” or RICO. As its name suggests, RICO was enacted in Congress with the primary purpose of strengthening criminal and civil penalties against those engaged in organized crime. Among other things, RICO entitles a successful plaintiff to awards of three times the amount of damages that the successful plaintiff has actually sustained. Thus, the consequences for defendants found liable under RICO can be devastating.

Precisely because the consequences can be devastating, those who are sued under RICO have no alternative but to expend extensive resources in the defense of a RICO lawsuit. When the plaintiff is a wealthy corporation like Resolute Forest Products and the defendants are not-for-profit environmental organizations, the mere cost of defending the lawsuit can be crippling. But this week, Resolute’s RICO lawsuit against STAND.earth and Greenpeace was felled by a judicial ax when a US federal court dismissed the lawsuit and dealt a severe blow to Resolute’s attempt to silence Greenpeace and STAND.earth.

Now, here to discuss this major decision with us is Todd Paglia, Executive Director of STAND.earth. Todd has helped transform the paper policies of multi-billion-dollar Fortune 500 companies. He was chosen as one of Ethisphere Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics. Before joining STAND.earth, Todd was an attorney for Ralph Nader, focusing on consumer protection issues. I should point out that Todd himself was named as a defendant in Resolute’s RICO lawsuit and I imagine he’s feeling pretty good about this decision as a result.

Todd, I’d like you to take a few moments just to summarize for us the judge’s basis for dismissing the complaint by Resolute.

Victory delivered a “knockout punch” to Resolute’s attempt to intimidate Greenpeace and STAND.earth

Todd Paglia — Absolutely. Be a pleasure. This was beyond what we thought our best case scenario would even be. It’s a knockout punch for Resolute. The judge ruled that all of our motions to dismiss, and this is a very early stage in litigation, so it’s very hard to get a motion to dismiss to succeed — in other words, the lawsuit brought against you needs to be terrible, weak, and not even worth considering — and that’s what the judge ruled in this case, dismissing outright most of Resolute’s claims.

Then, as far as some of the other claims that remained, he actually as a matter of law found this lawsuit to be a SLAPP lawsuit, a strategic lawsuit against public participation under California law, and dismissed the remainder of the lawsuit on that basis and awarded us attorneys’ fees. It could not have gone any better.

The attorney fees awarded to STAND.earth and Greenpeace will run into hundreds of thousands

Lascaris — Is the quantum of attorneys’ fees something that remains to be determined, or did he specify an amount at this stage?

Paglia — We’re talking 18 months of attorneys’ fees for us, for Greenpeace, for Greenpeace Fund, for some of the individual defendants. It’s going to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, easily.

Lascaris — For those of our viewers who are not lawyers, as most of them mercifully are not, in the United States, the typical rule is that, and this is different from the legal systems of Canada and the United Kingdom where the loser generally pays, but this is exceptional in United States law, usually the loser does not have to pay the adverse party’s attorneys’ fees. Is that correct?

California court found Resolute’s lawsuit to be a SLAPP suit and did the unusual by requiring Resolute to pay defendants’ attorney fees

Paglia — That’s right. Most of the time you walk away and you either won or you lost and that’s it. It gives you a sense of just how outrageous the court found Resolute’s lawsuit to be that they judged it to be a SLAPP suit as a matter of law and gave attorneys’ fees. If this was our home-run situation, we didn’t even allow ourselves to think it could happen, and it did.

Resolute’s lawyer reportedly told the CBC that the “lawsuit loss was not a significant setback”

Lascaris — I noticed that a lawyer on behalf of Resolute, in an email statement to Canada’s state broadcaster, the CBC, said that this is not a significant setback because the company has been granted leave to amend and file a modified complaint within 21 days. As a lawyer myself who’s litigated in US district courts, I was quite impressed by the claim that this is not a significant setback. It’s true that sometimes civil actions are revived after a dismissed complaint is amended, but when a judge dismisses a complaint at this preliminary stage, usually it’s a pretty bad sign and the case cannot be salvaged. What’s your take on all of this?

There’s “zero chance, almost” of Resolute reviving this lawsuit

Paglia — I agree with Resolute’s lawyer. They should spend as much money as possible in the next three weeks trying to revive this lawsuit. There’s zero chance, almost, of it coming back, but I hope they waste a lot more money doing so because the judge, if you actually read the opinion, it’s an extensive opinion issued a mere six days after oral argument in federal district court in San Francisco, and the opinion and the ruling of the judge is just absolutely devastating to this claim of action that Resolute brought. It leaves almost no room to maneuver. It goes through in excruciating detail the many, many ways in which Resolute failed to even come close to stating a cause of action that can survive in federal district court. Good luck, Resolute.

Meanhile, in STAND.earth’s Vancouver office, two sheriffs showed up to claim $14,000 in legal fees owed to Enbridge

Lascaris — Regrettably, this is not the only effort of a large Canadian extractive corporation to silence Stand.earth. I understand that today some sheriffs showed up at the Vancouver office of STAND.earth with a court order to seize all of the assets of the organization. Could you tell us what that’s all about?

Paglia — It was actually yesterday morning [October 17]. I just happen to be, we have offices in San Francisco; Bellingham, Washington; and Vancouver, British Columbia. I just happened to be on one of my regular trips to the Vancouver office, and I arrived just after the sheriffs arrived to take all of our computers, office furniture, microwave. As one of the reporters covering this in British Columbia tweeted later in the afternoon yesterday, this was over $14,000 in legal fees that the Enbridge pipeline corporation claimed we owed. There’s a really strange interlocking of corporate power and governmental power in what happened yesterday. It was frankly very bizarre.

Lascaris — These were incurred in the context of STAND.earth ‘s submissions to the Canadian Energy Board, is that correct? Having to do with the proposed pipeline by Enbridge, is that right?

STAND.earth lost the lawsuit in “strange interlocking” power of Enbridge and Harper government

Paglia — That’s right. This is the Line 6 pipeline, which we fought. This is under the former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, where to participate in the hearing, to offer testimony in any way, you had to fill out a 12-page form to be considered as somebody who could participate as a citizen in this process. In other words, you had to fill out more paperwork than it requires to become a Canadian citizen to make comments on whether the pipeline should be built or not.

Enbridge had won a judgment to recover $14,000 in attorney fees which STAND.earth refused to pay when the Trudeau government reversed the Harper policy

We lost that case. But in just the last couple of years with the Trudeau government, they have acknowledged that that was a mistaken policy, that the public should be able to participate without filling out a 12-page form, and they reversed that policy. Along the way, because we lost, Enbridge got a judgment to recover $14,000 worth of attorneys’ fees, and we refused to pay it. We were fighting for the public interest. The government changed its policy to acknowledging that that decision was wrong, and we refused as a matter of principle to pay Enbridge’s lawyers for their time.

Enbridge’s $14,000 claim isn’t about the money, it’s about “trying to intimidate citizen activists”

Meanwhile, they have been sneaking along through the courtroom getting an order to seize and sell all of our office equipment, which wouldn’t have added up to more than a couple thousand dollars, let alone the $14,000 that they claim we owe them. This is for a company that made $4.6 billion last year. It’s not about the money. It’s just like the lawsuit. It’s about trying to intimidate citizen activists to stay away from the issues that they’re working on, and it failed miserably and it’s never going to work. It’s certainly not going to intimidate us to back down on anything having to do with pipelines, climate, logging, or anything else.

Lascaris — Thank you very much, Todd. This has been Dimitri Lascaris speaking to Todd Paglia, the Executive Director of STAND.earth, about a major court victory against Canadian forest company Resolute Forest Products.

SEE RELATED

What Happened When Resolute Stood Tall Against Greenpeace? by Resolute Forest Products, (no date) – Fascinating spin by Resolute, which portrays itself as the courageous company that “drew a line in the sand” against Greenpeace. As interesting, perhaps more so, are the supporting comments posted by commentators from the ruling class media outlets, including Wall Street JournalWashington PostFinancial PostNational ReviewGlobe and Mail, and Toronto Sun.

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