Harrian Law, the law firm that represented the city of Portland, Oregon, in its lawsuit against a company called Empower Portland, is suing the firm for defamation.
The lawsuit, filed on Monday in the Northern District of California, alleges that Empower, which provides legal assistance to nonprofits and corporations, falsely implied that the firm had knowledge of its work with Harrian.
The suit was filed in response to an article in the Oregonian newspaper last month that quoted former Empower staff as saying that the Oregon attorney general had pressured the firm to settle with the city in 2015.
In the article, the newspaper said the company had reached an agreement with the state that allowed the firm “to pursue additional settlements and to make further adjustments to its work to address legal matters that were not resolved through the Oregon-based Empower.”
In its lawsuit, Harrian claims that Empowered and the Portland-based firm, OMB Environmental, misrepresented to the public and to employees at Empower that the company was “under investigation” for fraud and that it was seeking more than $4 million in damages.
In a statement released Tuesday, Empower said it was “disappointed” by Harrian’s lawsuit and that the lawsuit was “baseless and false.”
“We take our ethical obligations very seriously and will vigorously defend ourselves,” the statement said.
“We will vigorously fight this lawsuit.”
The suit is the latest legal wrinkle in a messy legal fight between Harrian and the city over the environmental laws the city and the state have enacted since 2015.
The city, in a decision in June that was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, said it had concluded that the city had failed to adequately investigate Empower’s work on environmental issues.
The city also alleged that Empowers “did not comply with its own policies, including that employees be vetted by the city.”
The city and Empower have argued that the state’s laws were preempted by the Oregon environmental laws, which were enacted after the state Legislature passed a landmark environmental law in 1990.
A judge in the Ninth District Court of Appeal in Portland rejected that argument last year, finding that the laws do not protect the right to “free speech.”
The case is currently before the appeals court, and is expected to be heard in December.