On August 1, 2019, the ACLU of Kansas filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Kansas defending two environmental activists attacked in a baseless, retaliatory ‘consumer protection’ investigation in 2018 by an official with the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC).

The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages and punitive damages for emotional distress and lost income due to violations of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. 

While serving as the KCC’s Deputy General Counsel, defendant Dustin Kirk filed bogus consumer protection complaints last year against Cindy Hoedel and Scott Yeargain. The complaints alleged that the plaintiffs had engaged in unauthorized practice of law because they shared information, advice, and sample filings with other concerned citizens protesting injection well applications. Injection wells are part of the energy extraction procedure commonly known as “fracking.”

Kirk's investigation not only chilled Hoedel and Yeargin's First Amendment protected petition activities during the pending two-month investigation, it undermined their efforts to associate for the purpose of obtaining legal redress amd caused them immense anxiety and emotional distress. 

A contract researcher and former journalist, Hoedel also lost $20,000 of freelance public relations consultant income, the race for a seat on the Chase County Commission, and associated salary and future income because of her portrayal as an extremist.

Yeargain, a Philosophy Ph.D. and a civic leader, also worried about his ability to pay legal costs and about the impact the allegations might have on his community standing. Yeargain rents property and sells cows, both endeavors depend on a reputation for integrity and good faith. He also holds seats on the Kansas Water Office advisory board for Marias des Cynges and the Franklin County Democratic Central Committee. These also require him to remain in good, moral standing.
Hodel and Yeargain have since ceased or curtailed their advocacy activities before the KCC and have reduced their efforts to provide assistance to fellow activists. They’ve heard other activists express fear about participating in hearings and then being subject to similarly manufactured accusations.
Hoedel began looking into KCC proceedings in 2017 after she experienced earthquakes in her Chase County home caused by fracking. She filed several application protests with the KCC opposing injection well sites near her home.
Yeargain lives in Franklin County, and has protested more than a dozen injection well applications in KCC proceedings since 2016.
In September 2020, the ACLU of Kansas voluntarily dropped its suit following a joint stipulation under expectations that the Court would find defendant Kirk entitled to immunity, just as Judge Teeter had for the other named defendants in the suit who were current or former commissioners. However, the ACLU has concerns about potential conclusions from the Court's decision, such as that elected officials may now have license to retaliate based on the content of ideas or values an individual is promoting.