In a case that often reads like a spy movie, the first phase of discovery is moving forward in a racketeering lawsuit filed by environmental advocacy group Greenpeace Inc. against two major chemical corporations accused of overseeing secret espionage campaigns against the nonprofit.
Greenpeace has accused Dow Chemical Company and Sasol North American Inc. of hiring private security agents – through their respective public relations firms – to conduct illegal surveillance on Greenpeace, steal confidential documents and disrupt its campaigns. The nonprofit is suing under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The alleged incidents are more than 10 years old. U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer has yet to rule on motions to dismiss filed by each of the defendants, but decided during a status hearing this morning that because of how much time has already passed, it was imprudent to delay discovery any further.
The other defendants include Ketchum, Inc., a New York-based public relations firm that Greenpeace has accused of conspiring with client Dow, and Dezenhall Resources Ltd., a Washington-based public relations firm accused of conspiring with Sasol. Four individuals who worked for Beckett Brown International (BBI), a now-defunct private security team Greenpeace has accused all the defendants of hiring, are also named as defendants.
In separate but similar motions to dismiss, the defendants argue that Greenpeace is time-barred from bringing the suit, given that most of the alleged incidents took place between 1998 and 2000, and also that Greenpeace has failed to identify any concrete injury or illegal racketeering activities.
“The alleged harms to which Greenpeace alludes — reduction in the value of its intellectual property, interference with its campaigns, and investigative expenses… are speculative and intangible,” attorneys for Ketchum argued in the motion to dismiss.
The complaint (PDF) includes accounts of “Mission: Impossible”-style activities, where BBI employees, allegedly hired by the chemical companies and their PR firms, would rummage through the nonprofit’s trash bins, place undercover operatives within the organization and infiltrate meetings and internal communications. The stolen information allegedly turned over to the defendants, according to the complaint, includes confidential strategy information on how Greenpeace planned to execute its advocacy campaigns, as well as donor records, financial reports and Greenpeace personnel files.
During the status hearing Friday morning, Collyer said she has yet to decide on any of the motions to dismiss, but was leaning towards dismissing one of the individual defendants given his affidavit that he was no longer working for the private security company when most of the alleged incidents took place.
Victoria Nugent of Washington’s Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll is lead counsel for Greenpeace. Attorneys for the defendants include Weil, Gotshal & Manges for Dow; Fulbright & Jaworski for Sasol; Carr Maloney for Dezenhall; and Latham & Watkins for Ketchum.
Oral arguments on the motions to dismiss are scheduled for May 26. In the meantime, all the parties have been ordered to begin initial disclosures.