As previously reported, on July 13, in Riverside County Superior Court, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) filed its complaint seeking damages for fire suppression, investigation and other costs stemming from the 2013 Mountain Fire that began in Mountain Center. On Aug. 20, Cal Fire filed its first amended complaint in the lawsuit seeking damages of no less than $8.5 million.

Cal Fire named as defendants Tarek Al-Shawaf, alleging he was owner of the property on which the fire started, and James and Donna Nowlin as his employees. The complaint alleges that the defendants committed violations of law and were guilty of negligence in allowing a fire to start on and escape from Shawaf’s property onto public and private lands.

On Oct. 20, Shawaf and the Nowlins, represented by the same San Diego Law firm, Kirby Noonan Lance & Hoge LLP, filed their joint verifed answer to CalFire’s first amended complaint. In their answer, the defendants admit that Shawaf owned the property at 53750 Highway 243, Mountain Center, and that he employed the Nowlins.

But the defendants deny that they owned, maintained or controlled the electrical power lines, junction boxes, breaker boxes, and other equipment and structures used to distribute electricity to his property. Shawaf also denies that he “supervised, managed, and/or directed” the Nowlins “in the day-to-day management, care, supervision, repair and/or regular upkeep” of his property.

The defendants further deny the Cal Fire allegations that the “Mountain Fire began due to an electrical arc between electrically charged wires in an above-ground junction box on the Shawaf property that caused hot material to escape the junction box and ignite the surrounding vegetation.” They also denied the allegation that the “junction box, related electrical equipment and wires, and other equipment on the Shawaf property were not installed, maintained, inspected, and/or repaired in compliance with the California Fire Code.”

The defendants deny that they caused the Mountain Fire as a result of their negligence or violations of the California Fire Code, Public Resources Code or any other laws, and they specifically deny any responsibility for Mountain Fire damages.

In standard affirmative defenses, Shawaf and the Nowlins assert, among other things, that Cal Fire’s complaint fails to state a cause of action, and that all of Cal Fires damages were caused by “the negligence, fraud, recklessness, carelessness, fault and/or unlawful conduct” of Cal Fire itself. They also assert that the fire and damages were “an act of God,” were unavoidable, that the defendants were “justified” in doing what they did “out of necessity,” and that the fire was caused by someone or something else. They further alleged that Cal Fire has no right to recover some or all of its damages because it voluntarily expended those monies.

[Correspondent’s comment: It should be noted that, for sake of completeness, standard affirmative defenses are commonly over-pleaded shotgun style, such that many of them are not taken seriously and are not again raised during the lawsuit.]

On Oct. 26, Shawaf and the Nowlins also filed an answer to the complaint of the Paul plaintiffs, who include Lon and Susan Paul, Martin Prevosto, Alisia Fisher and Doug McKellar MTS&L Inc., aka McKellar Tree Service and Landscaping, Inc.

The Paul complaint was unverified so the defendants were permitted to make a general denial that applies to each and every allegation of the Paul complaint. The defendants’ answer also included 24 standard affirmative defenses.

The Town Crier has no indication that the Mountain Fire complaints filed in March 2015 against Shawaf and unidentified defendants by pro-per plaintiffs Lawrence Goda and Diana Amore have yet been served on the defendants, much less answered.