By Jon King /

A motion has been filed to dismiss a lawsuit brought by an environmental activist against the company that installed a controversial natural gas pipeline through Livingston County.

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.

Energt Transfer 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.

The suit alleges the companies engaged in a conspiracy to deprive Borke of his civil rights. 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.”

On Monday, attorneys for Energy Transfer filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming it had failed to establish jurisdiction over the defendants nor that a conspiracy existed. Borke tells WHMI he isn’t surprised the firms are seeking to dismiss his lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds. “Large companies routinely use sub-contractors to do the work, which creates a wall of liability that protects the actual company. The reverse of that however is that anyone working for the company represents that company’s interest and therefore represents them.” He adds that the motion is “attempting to separate the employees from the company it does actually work for.”

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. Michigan AG Spokesman Ryan Jarvi said their review of the matter “remains ongoing” and they could not provide any further details at this time.

Borke has also questioned whether it was a conflict for Energy Transfer Partners to have as their attorney Jaye Quadrozzi, who also serves as a board member for the Great Lakes Water Authority, a quasi-governmental body that provides drinking water and sewer services for most of the communities in Southeast Michigan. When contacted by WHMI, Quadrozzi had no comment on that assertion or on her client’s motion to dismiss Borke’s lawsuit.

No further dates have been set in the case.