EDITOR’S NOTE: The ruling found that the state of Oregon breached its contract with timber counties west of the Cascades by failing to generate sufficient revenue through logging on state forests.
On November 20, 2019, the jury in the Linn County Class Action Lawsuit, after deliberating for just a few hours, decided that the State of Oregon had breached an almost 80 year old contract with 13 forest trust counties (which includes Tillamook County) and 151 taxing districts and awarded damages of $1.065 billion.
The trial, in the Circuit Court of Linn County and presided over by Judge Thomas A. McHill, began with jury selection on October 24, 2019. The lawsuit was originally filed in March 2016.
The jury heard over 100 hours of testimony and reviewed hundreds of exhibits, some going back to the early 1900’s.
While there are 15 forest trust counties, Clatsop County decided not to participate (although most of their taxing districts did and will share in the damage award) and Klamath County was removed from the case by Judge McHill since its forests operate under a pre-2001 forest management plan.
It is expected that the State will likely appeal the verdict, but while this continues to drag through the appeal process, 9% interest will accrue which is over $90 million per year.
After attorney’s costs, Tillamook County’s share of the verdict could be roughly $332 million. However, we have 20 taxing districts that receive almost 75% of our timber receipts from State forest harvests.
Tillamook County’s taxing districts receiving timber revenue include all three school districts, Tillamook Transportation, Tillamook Bay Community College, NW Regional Education Service District, all three Port districts, North County Recreation District, 4-H Extension, and many others.
Since 1998, when the State Legislature changed the rules of the 1941 Forest Acquisition Act, rural forest trust counties were expected to shoulder the financial burden of these changes.
The rapidity of the verdict after a month-long trial and awarding of full damages by the jury shows the strength of the trust counties case.