Monday, July 2, 2012

U.S. v. CB & I Constructors, Inc.

Jun 29: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 10-55371. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. According to the Appeals Court, defendant CB&I Constructors, Inc., (CB&I) negligently caused a June 2002 wildfire that burned roughly 18,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest in Southern California. The United States brought a civil action against CB&I to recover damages for harm caused by the fire. CB&I does not contest its liability or the jury's award of roughly $7.6 million in fire suppression, emergency mitigation, and resource protection costs. It challenges only the jury's additional award of $28.8 million in "intangible environmental damages."
    The district court denied CB&I's motions for judgment as a matter of law and a new trial or remittitur, concluding that under California law the government could recover damages for all of the harm caused by the fire, including intangible harm to the environment. The district court "held that the government provided sufficient evidence for the jury to determine the amount of environmental damages, and that the resulting award was not grossly excessive." The appeals Court affirmed the district court decision.
    In calculating the intangible harm, the jury also awarded the government an additional $28.8 million or $1,600 per acre of burned National Forest land. The Appeals Court indicated that CB&I and Amici argue that the government may not recover intangible environmental damages because noneconomic damages are not recoverable in negligence suits regarding harm to real property. However, the Appeals Court said, "CB&I and Amici err by relying on cases that merely limit damages for emotional distress or suffering. . . In sum, we see nothing in California law that prevents the federal government from recovering intangible, noneconomic environmental damages for a negligently set fire."
    Regarding the intangible harm, the government did not provide testimony on a specific dollar amount, but did provide testimony concerning the "extensive destruction and harm to animal habitats, soils, and plant life. This testimony included the harm caused by the fire to the endangered California red-legged frog and the destruction of the historic Hazel Dell mining camp." The Appeals Court said it agreed with the district court that the trial provided sufficient evidence for the jurors to quantify the intangible environmental harm.
    The Appeals Court said, "Given the scope of the environmental harm caused by the Copper Fire, we agree with the district court that the jury's damage award of $1,600 per acre was not grossly excessive or against the clear weight of the evidence. We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying CB&I's motion for a new trial or remittitur."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Land, #CA9]
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