Security company, state argue venue in Dakota Access dispute

Attorneys for North Dakota regulators and a North Carolina-based private security company argued in court Thursday over the proper venue to resolve a dispute over whether the company acted illegally during protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline and should be fined.

North Dakota's Private Investigative and Security Board wants the matter left in civil court, where it began a year ago when the board sued. The company, TigerSwan, maintains that any decision on fines should be handled administratively.

Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners hired TigerSwan to handle security as pipe was laid in North Dakota — work that drew large protests by environmentalists and American Indian tribes in 2016 and 2017.

The dispute between TigerSwan and the state regulatory board centers around whether the company provided actual investigative or security services within the state without a license, or consulting services that are outside of the board's jurisdiction.

Settlement negotiations have proved fruitless. TigerSwan has said it would be willing to pay fines to settle the legal dispute as long as it's not required to admit any wrongdoing — a stipulation that does not appear to be acceptable to the board.

Judge John Grinsteiner in late April decided not to ban TigerSwan from the state because it isn't licensed, but he didn't rule on whether the company acted illegally during the protests, which could make it subject to tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

Board attorney Monte Rogneby wants the judge to reconsider his earlier ruling and to keep any decision on fines in the civil court system, arguing that it's up to the board, not the defendants, to choose the venue.

"At the core ... this is really a jurisdiction claim by the defendant," he told the judge.

TigerSwan attorney Lynn Boughey contends that any decision on fines should be handled through the administrative process, which he said would provide better protections for his client in part because alleged violations would need to be more detailed. He asked Grinsteiner to throw the state's complaint out of civil court, where he said the board is making "bald assertions with no proof," leading to "shadow-boxing."

Grinsteiner said he expects to rule within a week.


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