BISMARCK, N.D. — A North Dakota judge has refused to reopen a lawsuit that state regulators filed against a North Carolina-based private security firm accused of using heavy-handed tactics against people protesting the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Judge John Grinsteiner's decision Monday ends the yearlong dispute in state district court, but doesn't resolve a disagreement over whether TigerSwan was conducting work that required a license in North Dakota.
North Dakota's Private Investigative and Security Board plans to appeal the case's dismissal to the state Supreme Court, attorney Monte Rogneby said. Should that fail, the board can still pursue tens of thousands of dollars in fines against TigerSwan through an administrative process.
TigerSwan attorney Lynn Boughey said an appeal would be "a waste of time and money."
Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners hired TigerSwan to handle security in 2016 and 2017 as thousands of pipeline opponents who feared environmental harm gathered in North Dakota to protest the project. The protests resulted in 761 arrests by law enforcement over six months.
In June 2017, the North Dakota board sued TigerSwan, alleging it operated illegally because it didn't have a state license, and Rogneby has said the goal of the lawsuit was "to protect the public interest." The board wanted Grinsteiner to ban TigerSwan from operating in North Dakota and also levy fines. The lawsuit was filed following criticism by pipeline opponents that TigerSwan used heavy-handed tactics and propaganda against protesters. TigerSwan said it was a victim of a smear campaign.
TigerSwan maintained that within North Dakota's borders it provided only consulting services to ETP that don't require a North Dakota license. It said it conducted all its investigative work in North Carolina, which is outside the board's jurisdiction. It said it didn't provide on-the-ground security services.
In April, Grinsteiner declined to issue a ban, and in May he dismissed the rest of the case, ruling that any decision on possible fines was a regulatory function of the board and outside of the court's purview.
The board asked him to reconsider in court filings and during a July 24th hearing, but Grinsteiner wasn't swayed, saying in part the board merely repeated earlier arguments that had already been addressed and was "not now entitled to a second bite at the apple."
The pipeline that ETP maintains is safe eventually was finished and has been moving North Dakota oil to a shipping point in Illinois since June last year.