By Jon King /

An amended complaint filed by an environmental activist against the company that installed a controversial natural gas pipeline through Livingston County has prompted a renewed motion by that company to dismiss the case.

The suit was filed last October in U.S. District Court in Detroit by Michigan resident Matthew Borke against Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the ET Rover pipeline, and its Chairman Kelcy Warren. The company’s security contractor, Leighton Security, was also named in the suit, along with that company's CEO Kevin Mayberry and Operations Manager Gary Washburn. It alleges the companies engaged in a conspiracy to deprive Borke of his civil rights through a campaign of harassment and intimidation in response to his efforts to halt the project.

Energy Transfer Partners constructed the 42-inch diameter pipeline which carries 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day up from the Marcellus and Utica Shale through West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, crossing into Michigan in Lenawee County, then proceeding north through Washtenaw and Livingston counties before joining the Vector Pipeline in Fowlerville, where it crosses the state into Ontario, Canada.

In February, the companies filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, disputing there was a conspiracy and claiming it had failed to establish jurisdiction over the defendants. In response, Borke filed an amended complaint on March 31st to back up his claim that both companies fall under the legal jurisdiction of the State of Michigan. He pointed to a 2014 filing from Energy Transfer Partners for a “Certificate of Authority to Transact Business in Michigan” as well as records from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) that show Leighton Security has applied for and received a business license every year since 2013, most recently on March 5th of this year. That’s despite the fact that Mayberry claimed in an affidavit that Leighton is not registered to do business in Michigan and “did not supply any of its employees or security guards for the Rover pipeline project.”

In response, both ET Partners and Leighton Security filed a renewed motion on Wednesday to dismiss the lawsuit as they say Borke has failed to make “plausible factual allegations” in his complaint as required by federal statute and that the lawsuit “rests entirely on the inadequately pleaded defamation claim” and “has not alleged facts that would support a finding of a conspiracy under Michigan law.”

Borke says he began attending meetings of Michigan Residents Against the ET Rover Pipeline in March of 2017, around the same time the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office began providing security at the ET Rover pipeline sites for $60 an hour, utilizing deputies in uniform and departmental vehicles. Borke claims that over the next several months, he and other members of the group were subjected to harassment and intimidation by employees of Leighton Security, which the lawsuit alleges was supported in its activities by the Sheriff’s Office through its contract.

When the lawsuit was originally filed in October, Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy said his office has several short-term and long-term contracts. “For example, we provide dedicated service to Tyrone and Putnam Townships for a fee (long term). We provide dedicated patrols for various subdivisions and HOA’s, as well as events, such as Easy Riders, Fowlerville Fair, etc… (short term). As with any of these contracts, it is simply to dedicate resources to maintain the peace, prevent damage and enforce the law(s), regardless of who is paying the bill, instead of relying on resources when and if they are available.”

The lawsuit also points out that Leighton never registered with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) as a security contractor, as required by law. LARA subsequently referred the case to prosecutors in Washtenaw and Livingston counties for further action. Then-Livingston County Prosecutor Bill Vailliencourt declined to prosecute, saying “The administrative investigation did not provide sufficient legally admissible evidence to meet the standards for criminal charges.” While the Washtenaw County Prosecutor did refer the matter to the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, they said the matter would best be investigated by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, which has taken up the investigation. When asked in February, a spokesman said their review of the matter “remains ongoing.”

No further dates have been set in the case.