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United States of America v. Sierra Pacific Industries; et al

May 22, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SIERRA PACIFIC INDUSTRIES; ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



ORDER

This matter comes before the court on defendant W.M. Beaty and Associates' ("Beaty") motion for partial summary judgment. (ECF 380.) It is decided without hearing. For the following reasons, Beaty's motion is denied as moot as to plaintiff's negligent hiring claim and denied as to capping property damage at the pre-fire fair market value.

I. FACTS*fn1 AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Moonlight Fire ignited on September 3, 2007. (Beaty's Reply to Plaintiff's

Response to Beaty's Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 5, ECF 413-1 (hereinafter "ECF 413-1-A").) It burned 46,000 acres of land in the Lassen and Plumas National Forests. (Beaty's Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 2, ECF 413-1 (hereinafter "ECF 413-1-B").)

Plaintiff filed its original complaint on August 31, 2009. (ECF 1.) On May 26, 2010, plaintiff filed the operative second amended complaint against defendants Sierra Pacific Industries ("SPI"); Beaty; Eunice E. Howell individually and doing business as Howell's Forest Harvesting Company (together, "Howell"); and a set of defendants identified here as the "landowner defendants."*fn2 (ECF 53 ¶¶ 5-8.) The second amended complaint alleges seven (7) causes of action: 1) negligence against all defendants; 2) liability under the Fire Liability Law, California Health & Safety Code §§ 13007-13009.1 and Civil Code §§ 3287 & 3288 against all defendants; 3) negligence and negligence per se under 14 Cal. Code Regs. § 938.8 and the Fire Protection Plan against all defendants; 4) trespass by fire against all defendants; 5) negligent supervision against SPI, Beaty, landowners, and Eunice Howell; 6) negligent hiring against SPI, Beaty, and landowners; and 7) interest and penalties against all defendants. (Id.) Plaintiff claims approximately $662,480,066 in damages, consisting of the following: $22,535,051 for fire suppression costs; $50,984,757 for lost timber value; $68,261,085 for reforestation costs; $1,525,093 for burned area emergency rehabilitation; $1,000,000 for environmental and ecological damages; $77,663,271/$87,934,047 in interest; and $331,240,033 in double damages. (ECF 413-1-A ¶ 11.)

Beaty and the landowner defendants filed their answers to the second amended complaint on June 10, 2010 (ECF 54 & 55 respectively); Howell and SPI filed their answers to the second amended complaint on June 15, 2010 (ECF 56 & 57 respectively).

Beaty filed the present motion for partial summary judgment on plaintiff's negligent hiring claim and to cap property damage on January 27, 2012. (ECF 380.) SPI and Howell joined in Beaty's motion to cap property damage on January 27, 2012. (ECF 386.) Plaintiff filed its opposition on February 10, 2012. (ECF 405.)*fn3 Beaty filed its reply on February 17, 2012. (ECF 413.)

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard

A court will grant summary judgment "if . . . there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). The "threshold inquiry" is whether "there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).*fn4

The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the district court "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, which "must establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact . . . ." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585 (1986). In carrying their burdens, both parties must "[cite] to particular parts of materials in the record [or show] that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support that fact." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)(1); see also Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 ("[the nonmoving party] must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts"). Moreover, "the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact . . . . Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court draws all inferences and views all evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587-88; Whitman v. Mineta, 541 F.3d 929, 931 (9th Cir. 2008). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)).

B. Application

1. Negligent ...


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