Lumber companies still liable for massive 2007 wildfire
July 13, 2017
• Appellate court doesn’t buy an argument of fraud
• The courts are a-Twitter
Sierra Pacific Industries Inc., Howell’s Forest Harvesting Company, and others are still on the hook for the costs of the 2007 “Moonlight” wildfire that scorched 46,000 acres of the Plumas and Lassen National Forests in California after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments that the government committed fraud in the original trial over liability.
The lumber company and its co-defendants argued that the government’s alleged misrepresentations throughout the investigation and litigation constituted “fraud on the court.” They also alleged newly-discovered fraud after the settlement.
The three-judge panel held that the district court properly concluded that Sierra Pacific Industries did not prove its case regarding any of the alleged fraud it discovered before settlement and that none of the allegations of alleged later fraud established that the government committed fraud on the court.
“Fraud on the court” is a serious charge that contends a court has been so disrupted that it cannot perform its tasks without bias or prejudice, according to the website LegalMatch,com.
Further, the court of appeals rejected the argument that the district court judge was required to recuse himself because of an appearance of bias created by activity on a Twitter account that did not bear the judge’s name, but was allegedly controlled by him.
An investigation concluded that one of the bulldozers Howell workers were using on the Sierra Pacific land had caused the fire by striking a rock, which created a spark that ignited forest litter on the ground and eventually broke out into a fire that spread into the surrounding forest.
The federal government initially sought $800 million from the companies and others as compensation for the damage done to the national forests and the costs of putting out the fire. Three days before trial was set to begin, the parties reached a settlement agreement under which the defendants agreed to pay $55 million and transfer 22,500 acres of land to the government.