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PacifiCorp appeals $94.4 million judgment to higher court

PacifiCorp has appealed a $94.4 million legal judgment for the 2020 Labor Day fires and asked for Phase II proceedings to be delayed while the appeal is pending.

Filed Jan. 4 with the Oregon Court of Appeals, PacifiCorp is challenging a Dec. 22, 2023, judge’s order imposing $94.4 million in damages in James et al vs PacifiCorp.

The company has also filed a motion to stay proceedings while the appeal is pending, claiming the higher court has “jurisdiction over the entire case” as a result of the appeal.

Plaintiffs have until Jan. 22 to file a response to the motion.

Currently parties are engaged in the first of a series of Phase II trials in Multnomah County Circuit Court to determine damages to a class of roughly 5,000 fire survivors. The trial began Monday and is scheduled to last through Jan. 17, with similar trials scheduled for February and April.

This is the first appeal to the higher courts since a jury found PacifiCorp liable June 12, 2023, for causing the Santiam, South Obenchain, Echo Mountain Complex and 242 fires on Sept. 7, 2020. PacifiCorp has repeatedly denied responsibility and on the day of the verdict promised to appeal the jury’s decision.

A month later on Aug. 11, 2023, PacifiCorp filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, claiming the jury’s decision was not founded on the evidence or the law. Multnomah County Judge Steffan Alexander denied the request Dec. 1, 2023, upholding plaintiff’s argument that evidence of PacifiCorp’s negligence and liability was overwhelming.

The Jan. 4 appeal did not include an opening brief explaining PacifiCorp’s arguments, which is typically filed later. The company opposed the imposition of damages prior to Alexander’s order, claiming the proposed judgment included elements that did not appear in the jury verdict.

This is not the first time PacifiCorp has asked the court of appeals to weigh in on the case.

In July of 2022, PacifiCorp appealed Alexander’s decision that May to certify the class of plaintiffs, which was defined broadly as those who suffered losses from the four fires. PacifiCorp argued this definition was too broad, and that the causes of the four fires should be argued separately.

Their appeal was rejected as meritless by court administrators that August, who said a finding in the matter was unlikely to impact the outcome of class certification or of the trial. PacifiCorp petitioned for reconsideration and in January of 2023 a panel of judges upheld the administrator’s decision.

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