A Washington federal judge tossed a racketeering lawsuit Friday filed by Greenpeace Inc. against two chemical corporations accused of orchestrating a secret espionage campaign against the environmental advocacy group.
Greenpeace had sued Dow Chemical Company and Sasol North American Inc. under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The two companies were accused of hiring private security agents – through their respective public relations firms, who were also named as defendants – to do illegal surveillance, steal confidential documents and disrupt its operations.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer found that even if Dow, Sasol and the other defendants did take its property, the chain of events laid out in the complaint failed to reach the standards required for a RICO case. She dismissed (PDF) the complaint against all the defendants in its entirety.
Greenpeace had claimed that its case fell under RICO because the defendants allegedly transported the stolen documents and information across state lines, hurting Greenpeace's operations and the worth of the information because it was being distributed without Greenpeace’s say-so.
In order to make a RICO claim, Greenpeace would need to show that the transport of their property caused them harm. In this case, Collyer found that Greenpeace was claiming that the theft of the property, and not the transport, was the cause of any injury, meaning they failed the RICO test.
Greenpeace had also accused the companies of sending an agent to infiltrate the board of an ally organization, the Calcasieu League for Environmental Action Now, or CLEAN, in order to monitor Greenpeace’s communications. But even if the agent did pass along internal CLEAN e-mails, Collyer wrote that Greenpeace couldn’t make a RICO claim because CLEAN, and not Greenpeace, would be the “direct victim.”
The conspiracy alleged in Greenpeace’s complaint took place more than 10 years ago. Greenpeace filed suit in November 2010 after reading a 2008 article detailing the espionage claims in Mother Jones magazine, according to the complaint.
The other defendants included Ketchum, Inc., a New York-based public relations firm that Greenpeace had accused of conspiring with Dow, and Dezenhall Resources Ltd., a Washington-based public relations firm accused of conspiring with Sasol. Four individuals who worked for Beckett Brown International, a now-defunct private security team Greenpeace accused the defendants of hiring, were also named.
A Greenpeace spokesman said Friday morning that they were reviewing the opinion but did not have any comment at the time. An attorney with Washington’s Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, which represented Greenpeace, did not immediately return a request for comment.
An attorney for Sasol, Matthew Kirtland of Washington’s Fulbright & Jaworski, said Friday that he was “pleased with the court’s decision dismissing the complaint in its entirety.”
Attorneys for the other defendants did not immediately return requests for comment. Firms also involved included Weil, Gotshal & Mages; Kirkland & Ellis; and Latham & Watkins.