Judge dismisses complaint against Dakota Access Pipeline security company

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A judge on Wednesday dismissed a complaint that North Dakota regulators filed against a North Carolina-based company that handled security for the developer of the heavily protested Dakota Access oil pipeline.

TigerSwan CEO Jim Reese applauded the ruling in a statement to The Associated Press and said the company looked forward to “continuing our conversations” with regulators, who still have options.

North Dakota’s Private Investigative and Security Board plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court, attorney Monte Rogneby said. Should the appeal fail, the board “very likely” would still pursue tens of thousands of dollars in fines against TigerSwan through an administrative process, he said.

The board sued TigerSwan and Reese last June, alleging that the company illegally operated in North Dakota without a state license in 2016 and 2017. Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners hired TigerSwan when pipeline-laying work in North Dakota drew large protests by opponents who feared environmental harm from the $3.8 billion project to move North Dakota oil to a shipping point in Illinois.

TigerSwan maintains that it provided consulting services to ETP that don’t require a North Dakota license and that any investigative work occurred in North Carolina, outside the board’s jurisdiction.

Judge John Grinsteiner in late April rejected a board request to ban TigerSwan from the state. In his Wednesday ruling, he agreed with TigerSwan’s attorney that any decision on whether the company should be fined for its actions during the protests should be made administratively.

“There is nothing left of the complaint that is within the purview of the district court,” Grinsteiner wrote. “It would be improper for this court to impose itself on an otherwise regulatory function.”

The board had wanted the complaint kept in the court system to avoid wasting a year’s worth of work and starting over in the administrative arena. TigerSwan had argued that the case should be handled administratively, a process attorney Lynn Boughey has said would provide better protections for his client in part because alleged violations would need to be more detailed.

Ongoing settlement negotiations in the dispute have yielded no agreement. TigerSwan has said it would be willing to pay fines as long as it isn’t required to admit any wrongdoing — a stipulation that hasn’t appeared to be acceptable to the board.