San Luis Obispo Sued for $5 Million Over 2015 Fire

The owners of two businesses in San Luis Obispo, California that were destroyed by a fire in 2015, have filed suit claiming the fire department’s strategy in extinguishing the blaze was negligent.

News coverage of the suit is rather superficial and a copy of the complaint was not available on the San Luis Obispo Superior Court web site. According to The Tribune, the fire occurred on December 26, 2015 and the lawsuit was filed last week. The Tribune claims the suit “alleges the Fire Department purposefully burned down the structure rather than put firefighters in harm’s way, and that city administration turns a blind eye to the department’s alleged ‘unwritten policies’ of letting buildings burn.”

The newspaper goes on to quote from the complaint:

“Criminals kill witnesses to eliminate evidence; our Fire Department expedites the burn-down of buildings and impedes investigations of the cause of the fire and Fire Department conduct in order to conceal flawed policies.”

The two businesses who are suing are The Sub and Square Deal Recordings & Supplies Inc. After the fire The Sub’s owners, Richard Ferris and Raymond Hanson publicly criticized the San Luis Obispo Fire Department, going so far as to blame an off-duty firefighter for starting the fire. When that story broke in 2017, The Tribune quoted SLO City Attorney Christine Dietrick as saying in an email: “The First Amendment permits people to speak, and rational reviewers can reach their own conclusions about the merits of such speech.”

If a copy of the complaint can be obtained, it will be posted here, as will additional details.

Here is a link to a web site with additional information about the fire. The site offers $5,000 in contest money for photos from the fire scene.


UPDATED: January 28, 2019 – Finally obtained a copy of the complaint: Sub v SLO 18CV-0782

The complaint alleges an INVERSE CONDEMNATION PROCEEDING. As explained in the compliant:

  • An action for inverse condemnation is an eminent domain proceeding initiated by the property owner rather than the condemner.
  • All the plaintiff in an inverse condemnation must show is that the damage resulted from an exercise of governmental power while seeking to promote the general interest in its relation to any legitimate object of government.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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