News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

New eight-week trial set in PacifiCorp lawsuit

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

A new trial has been set in a class action lawsuit against PacifiCorp after the court denied the power company’s attempt to limit pre-trial plaintiff outreach through community groups.

On Oct. 3, Multnomah County Circuit Court set a date of April 24, 2023, in Jeanyne James, et al. v. PacifiCorp.

The trial is scheduled to last through June 16, 2023, and is expected to consist of an initial common damages phase, followed by an individual damages phase.

Plaintiffs are seeking $1.6 billion and a court order requiring PacifiCorp to de-energize power lines during extreme wildfire conditions in the future, as occurred earlier this year. PacifiCorp has denied it was responsible for the fires or contributed to adverse fire conditions.

This replaces an original trial set for Aug. 15 that was delayed as PacifiCorp appealed the definition of plaintiffs in the class, which includes survivors of the Santiam Canyon fire, Echo Mountain Complex fire, the South Obenchain fire and the 242 fire, all of which occurred during extreme fire conditions in 2020.

PacifiCorp had argued the class, which has potentially thousands of individuals, was too broad. However, the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected their request Aug. 25 and the local court was allowed to move forward.

Community groups included

The new trial was set shortly after Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Steffan Alexander approved the plaintiffs outreach plan, which detailed how individuals who qualify for the class would be contacted and offered a chance to opt out if they wish to seek damages individually. 

The plan included standard outreach modes such as mailers, social media ads and TV spots, but also included the less-common method of depending on community groups such as Oregon Food Bank, Southern Oregon Fire Relief, and the United Way of Oregon to help spread word.

Plaintiffs argued, because so many individuals continue to be displaced by the fires, traditional outreach in the affected areas may not reach all class members, and community groups could help fill this gap. 

However PacifiCorp argued this alternative approach may jeopardize the integrity of the litigant outreach process, claiming the laypeople working for community groups may under-inform or misinform class members.

A hearing was held Sept. 23 to argue the matter, and on Sept. 27 Alexander approved plaintiffs’ plan as presented.

No other motions remain pending before the court, except for a pair of procedural requests by PacifiCorp to use out-of-state attorneys. 

In anticipation of motions filed ahead of the trial, a hearing is scheduled for Jan. 6, 2023, to consider any potential requests seeking to settle or dismiss part or all of the case, and a second hearing is scheduled for March 31, 2023, to consider any potential pre-trial motions.

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