Washington Supreme Court Will Hear Economic Liberty Appeal

John Kramer
John Kramer · January 4, 2007

Seattle—The Washington Supreme Court today accepted for review a case dealing with one of the most fundamental civil rights the citizens of Washington possess—the right to earn an honest living. In Ventenbergs v. City of Seattle, the Court will decide whether Seattle violated local entrepreneur Joe Ventenbergs’ right to earn an honest living when it created construction waste-hauling monopolies for two enormous, multi-national corporations, making it illegal for Ventenbergs to practice his profession.

“We’re confident the Washington Supreme Court will not permit the government to force small entrepreneurs out of business to protect huge corporations from competition,” said William Maurer, executive director for the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter (IJ-WA), which represents Ventenbergs. “It is unfortunate that the City is abusing the civil rights of everyday entrepreneurs to benefit others with more clout. All Washingtonians should have a right to earn an honest living, regardless of whether they’re politically connected.”

The case was filed on behalf of Ventenbergs, who owns Seattle-based Kendall Trucking, Inc., and Ron Haider, owner of the Lynnwood-based Haider Construction, Inc. Kendall Trucking sought the opportunity to haul waste from construction and demolition sites. One of the companies that wishes to hire Ventenbergs is Haider Construction. The City of Seattle, however, mandates that Haider only use one of two politically connected multi-national corporations. Rather than encourage local entrepreneurs like Ventenbergs and Haider, the City made it illegal for them to do business with each other.

Ventenbergs and Haider argue that the City’s actions violate the Washington Constitution, which specifically forbids the government from engaging in economic favoritism. The King County Superior Court ruled against the entrepreneurs, despite acknowledging the fact that the government was, indeed, playing favorites: “[W]hile by contracting with two hauling companies and excluding another, the City did ‘play favorites’ (legitimately or otherwise), the plaintiffs are not entitled to relief under the privileges and immunities clause.” The Court of Appeals affirmed.

“We are fighting to vindicate the right of all Washingtonians to earn an honest living,” said IJ-WA staff attorney Michael Bindas. “Unfortunately, there is a trend in this state of the government protecting large corporations while violating the civil rights of hard-working, small entrepreneurs through discriminatory regulations. The Supreme Court now has the opportunity to reverse that trend.”

The Supreme Court has not yet set a date for argument in the case.