BISMARCK, N.D. — A North Carolina-based private security firm hired by Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners won't be banned from North Dakota, though a judge is still weighing whether TigerSwan operated illegally in the state during protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline and might be subject to fines.
Judge John Grinsteiner rejected a request by North Dakota's Private Investigative and Security Board to order that TigerSwan stay out of the state because it isn't licensed.
The company had argued the issue was moot because its employees haven't been in the state since late last June, and Grinsteiner said the licensing board hadn't shown that they might return anytime soon.
"Furthermore, the board has failed to show that this conduct would produce injury to the board," the judge said in a ruling dated Friday.
ETP hired TigerSwan to handle security as construction crews laid pipe in North Dakota in 2016 and 2017. The project drew large protests, with thousands of pipeline opponents who feared environmental damage gathering in the state for months, clashing with police and resulting in 761 arrests.
The board sued the company and President James Reese last June, alleging the company operated without a license in the state. TigerSwan maintains it provided consulting services to ETP that don't require a North Dakota license, and that any investigative work occurred outside the board's jurisdiction in North Carolina.
The board asked the judge to find TigerSwan in violation of state law, ban the company from any further illegal activity and award unspecified fines.
TigerSwan attorney Lynn Boughey said he thinks Grinsteiner's refusal to ban the company bolsters its chance of having the entire case thrown out because he believes any fines should be handled administratively and not through the courts. He asked the judge on Monday to dismiss the rest of the case. Grinsteiner didn't immediately rule.
Board attorney Monte Rogneby didn't respond to email and telephone requests for comment Tuesday and Wednesday.
Rogneby argued last month that TigerSwan tried to circumvent Louisiana's denial of a license in that state last summer by creating a shell corporation through an employee, which he said was further evidence of why the company shouldn't be allowed to operate in North Dakota "to protect the public interest."
Boughey called that assertion "a total misrepresentation of the facts." TigerSwan maintains the contracted employee worked for a client, did not report to TigerSwan and was trying to set up her own business.
Grinsteiner declined to address the Louisiana matter, saying in part that it had no relevance to the North Dakota dispute. However, he added that "should the board discover similar actions in North Dakota, an injunction could be revisited."