Vacaville Unified School District
In late summer 2010, a Butte County property owner illegally moved ~1,000 cubic yards of soil and created unstable, settling ground in a low area by a seasonal creek that discharged into the adjacent Butte Creek. The property owner ignored stop-work notices. He first shaped the stream bed and placed side by side, used and damaged 54 inch diameter concrete pipes in the seasonal stream. Then, he pushed uncompacted fill mixed with vegetation over the pipes and in low areas by the stream. This created an unstable and highly erodible soil condition by the creek – right before imminent rains!
After multiple agencies got alarmed and involved (CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, United States Army Corps of Engineers, CA State Water Resources Board, and Butte County), they finally were able to stop the illegal grading in mid-October 2010. The property owner was convicted of multiple crimes. Butte County immediately hired a consultant and contractor on an emergency basis to design and install erosion control measures to mitigate expected significant erosion during the rainy season. In eight days, the contractor constructed the designed improvements under daily observation by the designer.
Eight years after the contractor installed the erosion control measures, the property owner sued them for creating “unstable slopes” on his property and demanded $1.7M! The contractor’s attorney hired Mr. Blackburn to review the site, summarize the documents, and serve as an expert during multiple depositions and at trial. Mr. Blackburn found that the property owner created the unstable and settling ground himself with the uncompacted fill soil.
After a tense and rancorous 4-week trial, the jury found no liability whatsoever with the contractor. Interviews indicated that the jury substantially believed Mr. Blackburn’s testimony.