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TRI In The News

Doctor Sues for Right to Visit, Treat Tree-Sitter


A doctor has sued the U.S. Forest Service for refusing him permission to treat a woman named Nutty.

The action has been filed by the Rutherford Institute on behalf of Dr. Greg Gelburd, who contends he has a faith obligation to help a woman who has been protesting a proposed pipeline project by “tree sitting.”

The complaint in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia asserts that Forest Service agents have violated Gelburd’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and First Amendment by preventing him from examining Nutty.

She is a 28-year-old woman who has spent close to 50 days perched in a “monopod” atop a 45-foot pole in the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia in protest of the 303-mile long Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Critics say the pipeline project has taken private property and destroyed areas of the national forest.

The lawsuit alleges government agents are attempting to force Nutty to end her protest by denying her access to food, water, provisions and medical assistance, as well as jeopardizing her health by directing smoke at her, subjecting her to bright lights at night, and targeting her with noise from generators placed below the tree.

Affiliate attorneys Tammy Belinsky and Alan Stuart Graf are assisting the Rutherford Institute in the lawsuit.

“Pipeline and forestry officials have been working hard to make life as difficult as possible for the pipeline protesters,” said constitutional attorney and Rutherford president John W. Whitehead.

“By shining floodlights into the trees at all hours of the night, creating ground disturbances, directing smoke into the trees, and blocking the protesters’ access to food, water and medical care, the government has made it clear that its priorities have little to do with respecting the rights of the American people and everything to do with corporate profits at taxpayer expense,” he continued.

The institute said the pipeline is a project of the Mountain Valley Pipeline company and is intended to move natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia.

Citizen opposition to the pipeline has resulted in numerous protests and acts of civil disobedience, Rutherford said. In March 2018, Nutty began her occupation.

When Gelburd learned of Nutty’s plight, the filing explains, he felt compelled – personally and professionally – to hike into the national forest to assess her medical condition and, if necessary, provide care.

But Forest Service officials blocked him.

The lawsuit explains the doctor is a Christian who feels obligated to help others whenever he can.