State v. Black Hills Power, Inc.Annotate this Case
The State incurred approximately $5,213,000 in suppression costs for the Oil Creek Fire, which it paid or will pay from the State’s Emergency Fire Suppression Account. The State filed a complaint against Black Hills Power (BHP) alleging that BHP was negligent in its inspection, operation and maintenance of a transmission line, which ignited the Oil Creek Fire. The State sought recovery for damages to State-owned property as well as for suppression costs associated with the Oil Creek Fire. BHP moved to dismiss the State’s claim for recovery of fire suppression costs, arguing that the State cannot make a viable claim for recovery of fire suppression costs in the absence of a specific state statute authorizing recovery. The federal court certified to the Supreme Court questions concerning the State’s ability to recover the expenses incurred in suppressing the wildfire. The Supreme Court answered (1) the state cannot generally recover its fire suppression and/or emergency service costs from a party whose negligence created the need for the emergency services because of the free public services doctrine; but (2) the State may recover the costs of its service where portions of the lands protected by the fire suppression effort were State lands.