Judge lets lawsuit continue against indebted hash oil makers

The legal fallout continues over an explosion and fire at a marijuana processor in Uniontown in 2016.

A federal judge will let a lawsuit against two former Astoria butane hash oil manufacturers involved in an explosion and fire move forward, without a monetary award, while they seek bankruptcy protection.

An explosion and fire ripped through the basement of a commercial building at Portway and Industry streets in October 2016. Jacob Magley, a contractor working at the site who was badly burned, sued Higher Level Concentrates owners Jason Oei and William “Chris” West in Multnomah County Circuit Court, alleging they had been consuming cannabis in a technique called “dabbing” while making butane hash oil, causing an explosion.

The lawsuit seeks $8.9 million in damages.

Higher Level was fined $5,300 by state health and safety regulators for failing to ventilate the building, provide an adequate electrical system and obtain city permits.

Magley also sued John Harper, an investor in local marijuana and tobacco stores, and his companies Under the Bridge Cigarettes and UTB Investments, for helping finance the buildout of Higher Level’s manufacturing space and for providing the Whip-It! Butane gas used to process hash oil.

Harper’s attorneys have sought to insulate Under the Bridge from liability, arguing that Portland company Rich & Rhine Inc., a distributor of the Whip-It! Butane gas provided to Higher Level, and United Brands Products Design Development and Marketing Inc., the manufacturer, are responsible for any defects.

West and Oei pleaded guilty in August to felony assault in the third degree and misdemeanor reckless endangerment in connection to the explosion and fire. They received three years of probation.

Oei and West both filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in federal court in October. The filing allows individuals with a regular income to develop a repayment plan of their debts and save homes from foreclosure. It also stops most collection actions against debtors and their property.

Lawyers for Rich & Rhine and United Brands filed a motion to allow the state lawsuit to proceed during the bankruptcy.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Peter McKittrick permitted the lawsuit to move forward with discovery and depositions of Oei and West.

“Nothing in this order is intended to permit a money judgment to be entered against either Mr. West or Mr. Oei in the state court case, in each case, so long as the bankruptcy case concerning such debtor remains pending in this court unless this court enters a separate order granting such further relief,” McKittrick wrote.

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