|Location||Plumas National Forest, Plumas County, California|
|Date(s)||September 3, 2007– September 19, 2007|
|Burned area||64,997 acres (263 km2)|
The Moonlight Fire was a wildfire that burned near Westwood in Lassen County, California. The fire, which started on Labor Day, September 3, 2007 scorched 64,997 acres (263 km2) before being contained on September 19. Approximately 2,300 firefighters were involved in fighting the fire. Strong winds pushed smoke to the Sacramento Valley, Bay Area, Nevada and Idaho. In Plumas County, 500 homes were threatened by the Moonlight Fire; 100 residences were evacuated near Greenville in the North Arm area of Indian Valley, as the wild fire was still raging in the Plumas National Forest.
Cause and investigation
The cause of the fire was never clearly established. Federal and state officials accused Sierra Pacific Industries of negligence in the hiring and supervision of a logging contractor. State Court Judge Leslie C. Nichols concluded that the state could not prove its case and engaged in unethical conduct in its investigation and subsequent legal action. The Court ordered the State of California to pay some $32 million to the defendants to reimburse them for the money spent fighting the case. The state later appealed the ruling.
After a Federal judge ruled that Sierra Pacific could be found liable for the fire even if its contractor did not start it, Sierra Pacific settled the federal case for $55 million and 22,500 acres of land.
District Court denial of motion to terminate settlement
On October 9, 2014, Sierra Pacific and other defendants filed a motion in Federal Court to terminate the settlement on the grounds that the investigation and prosecution were flawed and corrupt. As a result, on October 14, 2014, Chief Judge of the Eastern District of California Morrison C. England issued an order which referred the case to Alex Kozinski, then-Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for the assignment of a judge outside of the Eastern District of California to assure impartiality. Judge Kozinski declined to appoint a judge outside of the Eastern District to hear the case, which was then reassigned to Senior District Judge William B. Shubb, who issued an order denying the motion on April 17, 2015.
The court ruled: "Defendants have failed to identity even a single instance of fraud on the court, certainly none on the part of any attorney for the government. They repeatedly argue that fraud on the court can be found by considering the totality of the allegations. Here, the whole can be no greater than the sum of its parts. Stripped of all its bluster, defendants' motion is wholly devoid of any substance."
Appeals Court ruling
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed on July 13, 2017. United States v. Sierra Pacific Industries, 862 F.3d 1157 (9th Cir. 2017). In a unanimous opinion, the court ruled that all of Sierra Pacific's accusations were legally insufficient, because it "voluntarily settled instead of going to trial" and "bound [itself] not to seek future relief." In addition, the court explained that the accusations of misconduct that Sierra Pacific claimed to have learned of after the settlement "do not constitute fraud on the court," and it was not a fraud for government counsel "to have their own theory of the case and discuss it with their witnesses."
Supreme Court denial of certiorari
- "Moonlight Fire". CAL FIRE. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
- Walsh, Denny; Stanton, Sam (October 9, 2014). "Sierra Pacific levels corruption allegations in renewed legal fight over Moonlight fire". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
- "US vs. Sierra Pacific Industries" (PDF). Eastern District of California Blog. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
- No. 17-1153