Home » Case Summaries » 2016 » Shell Offshore, Inc. v. Greenpeace, Inc., 815 F.3d 623 (9th Cir. 2016)


Shell Offshore, Inc. v. Greenpeace, Inc., 815 F.3d 623 (9th Cir. 2016)



In this case, Greenpeace Inc. (Greenpeace) appealed the United States District Court for the District of Alaska’s grant of preliminary injunction and preliminary order of civil contempt in favor of Shell Offshore Inc. (Shell).[1] Greenpeace challenged the injunction on several grounds. The Ninth Circuit did not address the claims because the court held that, because the injunction had expired, the challenge was moot. The court dismissed the appeal and remanded for further proceedings.

In 2012, Greenpeace activists involved in that organization’s “Stop Shell” campaign unlawfully boarded several exploration vessels that were used in Shell’s activities in the Arctic. In response, Shell brought suit in the District of Alaska, where it received a preliminary injunction barring Greenpeace from coming within a certain distance of Shell’s ships.[2] In addition, the injunction prohibited Greenpeace from engaging in other torts and acts of trespass against Shell’s exploration fleet.[3] Greenpeace appealed the ruling, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

In January 2015, Shell renewed its plans to drill in the Arctic. In response, Greenpeace activists boarded one of Shell’s vessels in protest. Shell reacted by bringing the instant action seeking a preliminary injunction and claims for monetary damages. The district court granted the injunction and Greenpeace appealed.[4] While the appeal was pending, Greenpeace activists in Portland, Oregon, suspended themselves from the St. John’s Bridge in an effort to stop a Shell vessel from leaving the Portland harbor. Greenpeace’s actions were deemed unlawful because the vessel was covered by the preliminary injunction. Shell moved for the district court to enforce the injunction and sought damages. After an emergency hearing, the district court entered a preliminary order of civil contempt imposing monetary sanctions on Greenpeace so long as the activists continued “to hang from the St. John’s Bridge in Portland,” in violation of the injunction.[5]

In September 2015, Shell announced that it would cease its exploration and drilling activities in the Arctic. On November 1 of the same year, the preliminary injunction expired on its own terms. Shell did not seek renewal of the injunction. The Ninth Circuit held that, as a result, the instant case challenging the injunction was moot because the injunction was no longer enforceable against Greenpeace. The court reasoned that, as a result, there was no longer a “legally cognizable interest” in the case. Further, the court was not able to grant any relief as a result of the expiration.

Regarding the sanctions, the Ninth Circuit found that the district court had issued the sanctions primarily to bring Greenpeace into compliance with the preliminary injunction. The court explained that because the sanctions were designed to coerce compliance with the preliminary injunction, they were civil sanctions rather than criminal sanctions. The court held that the sanctions were mooted when the preliminary injunction expired, noting that when an injunction expires there is no longer anything left to coerce the parties covered by the injunction to do, and so the sanction no longer serves any purpose. Accordingly, the court vacated the pending contempt proceeding in the lower court and simultaneously declared Greenpeace’s challenge to those proceedings moot.

The court remanded the remaining issues to the district court, including Shell’s complaint seeking damages for injuries caused by Greenpeace during its “Stop Shell” campaign. In sum, the Ninth Circuit dismissed Greenpeace’s appeal of the preliminary injunctions for mootness due to the expiration of the injunction and Shell’s subsequent decision not to seek renewal. The court vacated the district court’s contempt order resulting in the sanctions and remanded the case back to the district court.



Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Shell Offshore, Inc. v. Greenpeace, Inc., No. 3-15-cv-00054-SLG, 2015 WL 2185111, at *1 (D. Alaska May 8, 2015).
  2. Id.
  3. Id. at *6.
  4. Id. at *1.
  5. Shell Offshore, Inc. v. Greenpeace, Inc., 815 F.3d 623, 627 (9th Cir. 2016).
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