Circuit Court Affirms Agreement Between Burning Man and Pershing County

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that an agreement between Burning Man and Pershing County is fully valid and legal, resolving a four-year-old issue relating to how the Burning Man organization and the county work together.

(Update 3/3 11:02 am: here is the full text of the ruling as a PDF.)

Burning Man sued Pershing County in 2012 for breach of contract, First Amendment violations and other issues. We negotiated with county officials and signed a settlement agreement in 2013, but a federal district court judge said the agreement wasn’t valid.

Photo by Russ Atkinson

Photo by Russ Atkinson

The settlement agreement spans 10 years (from 2013 through 2023) and is designed to cover all of Pershing County’s costs and impacts related to the Burning Man event. Just as importantly, it preserves participant freedoms protected by the First Amendment, which are fundamental to the event and the Ten Principles.

Ours is a culture of freedom, where self-expression is encouraged and celebrated. We’re proud to defend our event and our growing global culture against any effort that seeks to erode those freedoms.

Burning Man appealed the federal district court judge’s ruling, and the county, in its response, agreed with Burning Man’s position by also stating that the agreement was a valid transaction. Today’s announcement overturns the district court judge’s decision and affirms the contract.

We see this is a victory for Burning Man and Pershing County, and we’re pleased to share the news with you. This decision protects participants’ Constitutional rights and validates the agreement we have with Pershing County on how we’ve been working together and how we will work together moving forward.


Top photo by Lenny Jones

About the author: Burning Man

Burning Man

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man's Communications Team.

37 Comments on “Circuit Court Affirms Agreement Between Burning Man and Pershing County

  • Joblow says:

    This article says nothing. Can you please write a legible replacement with some actual info? What freedom of mine has Pershing county agreed to uphold? You got kindergartners writing these things or what?

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    • Corey says:

      The court ruled to guarantee constitutional rights? Profound court system we have.

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    • Walt says:

      Hey Joblow, we have a lot of nice folks working hard to try to preserve an experience that is very important to all of us. There is nothing wrong with asking for more information on this suit. I don’t think it would hurt your position if you asked in a way that did not denigrate the very people who worked to win this case. I’m sure you are a good guy, and that you are passionate about BM; reread your own post and see if it represents who you are and what you have learned from BM. Best to you.

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    • Lolaeve says:

      The links they provide in the second paragraph tell you in detail exactly what the issue was….

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    • Sugarlarry says:

      Perhaps this was written by a kindergartener, or maybe it just seems that way to someone who did their degree in dickology.

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    • Dev says:

      I must say those were exactly my thoughts… the article just seems to paraphrase the same thing over and over, without saying much: We made an agreement with the county that ‘stuff’ covered by the first ammendment will be respected for participants, something regarding freedom.
      Couldn’t get any much vaguer than that guys… seriously. It looks like for something you’ve been fighting for 4 years, you just couldn’t get yourself to try a little harder to explain it… Sounds like a ‘great thing’ you’ve accomplished there chaps! Way to go!

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  • Daniel says:

    Link to the ruling please?

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  • Cartoon Bear says:

    Please post a full copy or link to the agreement.\\
    Thanks

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  • Alan Wenokur says:

    Here’s a link to the short opinion. In a nutshell: The district court didn’t have authority to rule, and the judge is a bit of a jerk as well.

    https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/memoranda/2016/03/02/14-15221.pdf

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  • Jet says:

    So boobs are ok or what?

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  • Mono says:

    The title should read “Federal Appeals Court”, not circuit court. circuit court Indicates a lower state court

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    • Pantsless Santa, Esq. says:

      @mono – federal appeals courts are called “circuit coirts”

      A lot of the rest of you:

      BM made a deal with the county whereas BM would pay the County money and the County would agree not to try to prevent Burning Man from happening, with all of the nudity and everything. It was a mutual deal where both parties were happy.

      A federal judge tried to prevent the deal going through, probably because he didn’t like nudity, and ordered that the deal not be enforced.

      BM appealed (with the County’s full support), saying that the court should enforce the deal. The appeal was successful.

      This is a case of a federal judge trying to fuck with the event and failing.

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  • Seana-Marie "Fire" says:

    Thank You for standing for us, Thank You for providing the information and Thank You for caring about or rights. No matter how it is written I “Got it” !

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  • anon says:

    I’ll breach the radical self reliance wall and post the link to the actual decision: http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/memoranda/2016/03/02/14-15221.pdf

    @mono-A federal appellate court is called a federal appeals court and is also known as a circuit court of appeals (it is the (9th Circuit Court of Appeals). Your reference to “circuit court” as a lower state court has not impact on the federal judiciary, which is an entirely separate judicial entity (like apples and oranges, federal and state courts operate on parallel but different tracks).

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  • Elliot Naess says:

    Wow. That’s what I call a trip to the woodshed for Judge Robert C. Jones. A serious spanking if I ever read one.
    The system works! We may occasionally wind up with a rouge judge like that, but the controls are in place, and work.

    -Elliot
    Elliot’s Naked Bicycle Service & Piano Bar

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  • Rio says:

    As a lawyer I’ve never seen a court call out a judge like this especially by name. I don’t think you can find another case that does. Truly remarkable.

    Would like more info on who Mr. Shirley is. Some character from the Airplane movie?

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  • BIBO says:

    Based on the referenced article, re: “the lawsuit,” there is nothing related to our first amendment rights nor “the 10 Principles.” Indeed, the whole thing is about nothing more than money – who gets our money: Pershing County, or Larry & Co.

    Larry & Co. apparently prevailed.

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  • Silmarien says:

    Read the full ruling .pdf. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was highly critical of the District Court, particularly Judge Jones, to the point of remanding it to a different court. “Judge Jones excoriated and mocked counsel…” “Among other things, Judge Jones: noted his own laughter on the record, repeatedly lobbed accusations of malpractice, described counsel’s comments as “mealy-mouthed,” and suggested that counsel return to law school.”

    I’m with others who suggest that the event be moved to a place where our positive economic impact would be appreciated, rather than regarded as a cash cow.

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  • anon says:

    No need to post this comment, but you didn’t approve my comment from yesterday, but yet took my link to the PDF court decision and not my explanation of the Circuit Court issue. I may be anonymous, but there is a certain de minimus joy to seeing my anon name in print.

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  • Rio says:

    (‘Surely you can’t be serious’), “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley,”

    Obscure reference explained.

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  • Jim n Reno says:

    Just remember that the new Sheriff of Pershing Co does not like nor want BM in his County. I think more tickets/arrests were done in 2015 than in the previous 5 yrs, or something like that. The agreement means little when a Sheriff wants to make an issue. He can find ways…..

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  • po~ne says:

    I’m very thankful that we live in a place where we can fight for our rights. I’m even ok w someone putting up roadblocks , just makes me want it more, and appreciate it more.

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  • Crying Son says:

    Than you Burning Man for all of your efforts. So we are clear, it was District Federal Court Judge Ron Shirley ruling who’s decision was overruled. Mr. Shirley has long been an antonym/critic to the BM event due to his personal beliefs. This speaks volumes to the principles of blind justice and liberty offered up such absolutists. I am sure that Judge Shirley is an upstanding and fair individual but his actions demonstrate that you dare not have a different value system. I know many fine and upstanding individuals all over Pershing County and Lovelock (its county seat). I am sure the Judge Shirley feels that he was correct in his decision. I could accept that if it was based on the principles of separation of church and state. However, I don’t believe he even considered that in his ruling. I would love to get Judge Shirley out to the event. Focusing only about the perceived negative sides of things always tells you more about the person than what about they opine.
    As a native Nevadan, I would like to say that most people in the state want BM here. I used to be dead set against the event and had horrible perceptions of it. I learned that one has to look for those things to find them at BM and if you look. So folks, not all people in Pershing County share Judge Shirley’s opinions. I say that with all the respect I can for him to have those opinions. However, they have no place on the bench.

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    • buttercup says:

      I’m confused — the district court judge who was overruled was not Ron Shirley, but Robert Clive Jones. The Ninth Circuit smacks down Jones on the regular, usually quite aggressively, since he’s a right wing whackjob who lets his personal politics and religious faith (LDS) drive his judging.

      Fortunately Jones recently took senior status, so he’ll have fewer cases to utterly f*ck up.

      @Crying Son: I can’t find a federal court judge named Ron Shirley: can you please clarify? I’m guessing you mean Judge Jim C. Shirley, of the Eleventh Judicial District of Nevada?

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      • Crying Son says:

        Hello Buttercup – You are correct. There are a lot of Shirley(s) in Northern Nevada to which I identified the wrong Shirley. Judge Jim C. Shirley, of the Eleventh Judicial District of Nevada was elected to that position in the last election. Previously, he was the Pershing County District Attorney and is mentioned in the referenced case as the “Appellee” in the case. Judge Shirley is also of the same faith as Judge Robert Clive Jones. The decision is interesting to read, particularly the ending. Thanks for getting my facts straight! Hope you can make to the Burn this year.

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  • Apollo-Pan says:

    So, I am curious honestly how exactly does a fixed rate for law enforcement charges protect “our freedoms provide by the First Amendment …and the Ten Principles?” I’m certainly glad that our beloved event is not been overcharged for the public services which insist on providing themselves to the event, Petitioning the government for redress? That never seemed to be a problem, except in the unprofessional conduct noted in the previous ruling. Doesn’t sound like anything mentioned in the Ten Principles has any overlap with the cost of law enforcement.

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  • Whizm Dawit says:

    Ho hum! Much ado about essentially nothing! What is the value of a Pyrrhic victory anyway?

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