On August 15, 2016, Dakota Access LLC sued seven named Water Protectors, and additional unnamed protectors, seeking a court order stopping them from “interfering” with DAPL’s ability to build the pipeline.

“When we arrived at Standing Rock in September 2016, DAPL was seeking to use the federal court to enjoin anyone from protesting at or near its worksite at Highway 1806,” recalled WPLC attorney Jeff Haas. “Our defendants did not agree to being restricted to a ‘free speech zone’ and we sought the lifting of the Temporary Restraining Order and denial of a preliminary injunction. The judge ultimately decided that the federal court could not be used to enforce a matter more properly brought before the state court, and dismissed the case.”

The suit, successfully quashed by WPLC attorneys Rachel Lederman and Jeff Haas, was a classic SLAPP suit — a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, brought to retaliate against people who speak on matters of public concern in order to intimidate or silence them.

“SLAPP suits are a threat to the right to assemble and to engage in free speech, and have historically been used against strikers in a picket line, or demonstrators at a protest,” Haas explained. “The entity that claims their functioning is being interfered with tries to get an injunction against everyone including unnamed parties as a quick way to try to stop people from effectively demonstrating. They sometimes add money damages as a way to bolster the claim of daily harm. But the main aim is to have the court enjoin the protestors from protesting, and jail them if they continue to do so in violation of the injunction. Our intervention prevented that.”