Court Upholds Seattle Trash Monopolies, Seattle Entrepreneurs and IJ to Appeal

John Kramer
John Kramer · February 24, 2004

Seattle, Wash.–A King County Superior Court Judge yesterday [Monday, February 23, 2004,] held that the state constitution permits the City of Seattle to limit the market in hauling construction and demolition waste to two large out-of-state companies. The ruling allows the City to shut down small, local hauling companies in order to protect the market share of Rabanco, Ltd., a division of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Allied Waste Industries, and Waste Management of Washington, a division of Houston, Texas-based Waste Management, Inc. The Institute for Justice Washington Chapter (IJ-WA), a Seattle-based public interest law firm which represents the entrepreneurs in this lawsuit, announced they would appeal the decision to Division I of the Washington Court of Appeals in Seattle.

“We are disappointed with the decision; however, it was clear the judge felt that earlier cases mandated this outcome, even though he specifically found that the City did ‘play favorites,’” said William R. Maurer, executive director of the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter. IJ-WA brought the case on behalf of Joe Ventenbergs, an independent hauler who faces the destruction of his business, and Ron Haider, a small contractor who does not wish to be forced to use the City’s chosen monopolists to haul construction waste from his work sites. “Our goal now is to get those decisions either limited or overturned. The constitutional right of Washingtonians to earn an honest living requires that we continue to fight for Joe and Ron.”

Specifically, the ruling holds that, “while 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 [of the Washington Constitution]” because the City called hauling construction and demolition waste a City service “which the government can control either by performing the function itself or by contracting to have it done without a competitive bidding process. . . .” The plaintiffs had argued that the City’s actions violated the dictates of the Washington Constitution’s Privileges or Immunities Clause, which specifically forbids the government from engaging in economic favoritism.

“We plan to appeal this decision and vindicate the rights of small businesspeople to ply their trades,” said IJ-WA Staff Attorney Jeanette Petersen. “The City’s actions are another example of the unfortunate trend in this state of the government doing everything it can to protect large corporations, while small businesses continue to suffer under unreasonable restrictions. The evidence in this case showed that the only reason the City restricted the market to these two companies was to avoid a lawsuit from these companies. This is not what the framers of our state constitution had in mind when they forbade the government from giving favors to large, influential corporations.”

The City’s monopoly-granting contracts became effective April 1, 2001, and continue in effect until March 31, 2008. The Institute for Justice Washington Chapter filed its lawsuit on Tuesday, May 13, 2003