Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II and several tribal council members are no longer facing a civil suit from Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) over their alleged role in protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland dismissed the lawsuit filed last August by Dakota Access LLC, the ETP subsidiary building the pipeline.
In filing the lawsuit against Archambault and other tribal officials, the company had cited safety issues in charging that the defendants had “created and will continue to create a risk of bodily injury and harm to Dakota Access employees and contractors, as well as to law enforcement personnel and other individuals at the construction site,” the Associated Press reported on August 16.
Archambault had sought dismissal of the suit, which came just as the number of people pouring into water protector camps near the Standing Rock reservation began soaring. Dakota Access LLC also got a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Archambault and his fellows that enjoined them to keep their activities within the law. That order was lifted a month later on the grounds that it was redundant, since existing laws furnish the same restrictions, but the civil suit still stood.
The civil suit was also dropped against council members Dana Yellow Fat, Valerie Wolf Necklace, Clifton Hollow and Jonathan Edwards, who were named as defendants along with Archambault. Donald Strickland and Aaron Neyer did not file dismissal motions, and the suit against them technically still stands, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
In order for the suit to fall under federal jurisdiction, each defendant had to be held individually responsible for costing the company more than $75,000 daily in lost work, while the pipeline company argued that since their actions in the aggregate had caused the work stoppage, it could hold each one of them accountable for all the losses. Hovland found that the company did not make that case.
ETP did not respond to requests from Indian Country Media Network for comment. The attorney for Archambault and Yellow Fat, Timothy Purdon of the law firm Robins Kaplan, said he agreed with the judge’s conclusion.
“I think the court’s correct,” he told ICMN. “We also believe there was no jurisdiction.”
He said that although the dismissal was good news, it also had some negative implications when it came to exercising First Amendment rights.
“What’s frustrating for me is, you have the pipeline going to federal court right at the start of the protests, and they got a TRO against the chairman of the tribe that was in place for several weeks,” Purdon told ICMN.
“They were able to use the federal court system to get this TRO, which has to have had some impact on the chairman and the other defendants in a case where it’s eventually shown that the federal court lacked jurisdiction over the matter,” Purdon said, noting the parallels between that ruling and the dismissal of felony charges against numerous water protectors. “What we see in North Dakota is, in the cases involving the protests—the civil case here, some of the criminal cases—the protest cases appear to be getting resolved for the most part in favor of protesters, which I guess is great for the First Amendment, but it leads me to question some of the legal theories that were used in the beginning here by the pipeline company.”