U.S. judge dismisses racketeering suit against Greenpeace, Stand.earth

Judge dismisses RICO suit against environmental groups, but allows defamation suit to be heard

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A District Court judge in California has dismissed a racketeering suit filed by Quebec’s Resolute Forest Products against Greenpeace and Stand.earth, but ruled a defamation suit can proceed.

Resolute has sued Greenpeace in Ontario, and also filed defamation and a racketeer influenced and corrupt organization (RICO) suit against it and Stan.earth in the U.S. Both environmental groups have chapters in the U.S.

Stand.earth (formerly ForestEthics) and Greenpeace have called the company’s legal tactics a SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuits against public participation), and on Tuesday January 22 federal court Judge Jon S. Tigar agreed to dismiss all but one of the claims under California’s anti-SLAPP legislation.

In dismissing all but one of the claims against the two environmental groups, the judge awarded costs to them.

“Resolute is now a two-time legal loser,” Todd Paglia, Stand.earth executive director and one of the defendants named in the suit, said in a press release.

“It lost this case twice in the last year, spent millions trying to silence critics, will spend more on our lawyer fees, made itself a free speech pariah, alienated its customers, distracted its senior staff — and lost anyway.

“Companies would do well to examine Resolute’s spectacular record of failure in trying to silence its critics — and avoid following in its sleazy footsteps.”

In a statement posted by Resolute, the company claims the decision was not a total defeat because the judge said one particular allegation of defamation could go forward.

Resolute argues that the two groups waged a campaign of misinformation against the company that was both defamatory and harmful to its business.

One of the claims that Resolute makes is that Greenpeace claimed Resolute had logged in an area known as Montagnes Blanches.

Despite Quebec’s minister of Forests publicly stating that Resolute had not logged the area, and that the maps Greenpeace had used were not accurate, Greenpeace continued to assert that it had logged the area, including in a Greenpeace report called “Clearcutting Free Speech.”

“The court concludes that Resolute adequately pleads actual malice as to the Clearcutting Free Speech report,” Jon S. Tigar write in his ruling. “First, the statement is materially false in alleging that Resolute was logging in the Montagnes Blanches when it was not.”

The judge also said Resolute “adequately alleges” that two of the defendants named in the case knowingly distributed defamatory statements.

However, the judge ruled that some of the other claims of malicious defamation were not supported.

At one point in their campaign against Resolute, Stand.earth had falsely claimed that Resolute had violated a Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (CBFA), but when it learned of the error, the group issued a correction.

As for the RICO claim, Resolute argued that the environmental groups had “defrauded” their own donors and Resolute’s customers with their campaigns against the company.

One of those customers was the book publisher Penguin. After the publisher was informed by one of the environmental groups that Resolute was logging in the Montagnes Blanches – something the Quebec forestry minister confirmed was not true – the publisher asked Resolute to provide information on its lumber sourcing for its pulp and paper operations, or would switch to another supplier.

But it appears the campaign did not stop Penguin or other publishers from continuing to use paper from the company. According to the court ruling, Resolute failed to prove that the campaigns had actually resulted in a loss of customers.

Greenpeace and Stand.earth asked that Resolute’s suit be dismissed under California’s anti-SLAPP legislation, which allows for a pre-trial dismissal of lawsuits intended to silence critics.

The judge agreed to the request, and dismissed all of Resolute’s claims against Greenpeace and Stand.earth, except one.

The judge held that Resolute's claim of defamation against Greenpeace for its claims that the company had been logging in the Montagnes Blanches could proceed – something the company claimed as a partial victory.

“Although the judge did not allow all of Resolute's claims to proceed, we are pleased the proceedings will now move forward on our defamation and unfair competition claims against Greenpeace,” the company said.

“In conjunction with our legal action, we plan to maintain our effort to publicly hold Greenpeace and their allies accountable for the economic harm they have caused not only to our company, but to the thousands of people who live and work in the boreal forest.”

nbennett@biv.com

@nbennett_biv