Courthouse News Service
December 14, 2011
The Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition sufficiently pleaded First Amendment violations in its lawsuit against an American-Israeli anti-terror think tank that contracted with Pennsylvania’s Office of Homeland Security to keep tabs on environmentalists’ protests against natural gas drillers, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge William Caldwell denied qualified immunity to defendant James Powers Jr., the former director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Homeland Security, who allegedly approved the contract.
But Caldwell dismissed the Coalition’s request for an injunction prohibiting the defendant Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITTR) from acting as a state agent to surveil groups engaging in peaceful First Amendment conduct in Pennsylvania.
The alleged contract has been canceled and the requested injunction is therefore “overreaching,” the judge found in an 18-page opinion filed Monday.
According to the Coalition’s September 2010 lawsuit, the group was swept up “in a prolonged and secret campaign of domestic surveillance” after Powers gave the green light to a $125,000 contract for the Institute to “regularly surveil and report on potential terrorist threats against … [Pennsylvania's] critical infrastructure.”