Seattle Entrepreneurs Ask Washington Supreme Court To Strike Down Government-Created Trash Monopolies

John Kramer
John Kramer · March 18, 2005

Seattle, Wash.—Two Seattle entrepreneurs on Wednesday asked the Washington State Supreme Court to review an appellate ruling endorsing the City of Seattle’s decision to shut down small, local construction waste hauling companies to protect the market share of two large out-of-state companies—Rabanco, Ltd., a division of the Arizona-based Allied Waste Industries, and Waste Management of Washington, a division of the Texas-based Waste Management, Inc.

Division I of the Washington State Court of Appeals handed down the ruling last month. The Institute for Justice Washington Chapter (IJ-WA), a Seattle-based public interest law firm that represents the entrepreneurs, is now taking the battle to the Washington State Supreme Court.

“We urge the Washington Supreme Court to accept review in order to vindicate our clients’ rights to economic liberty,” 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.

“Washington law is clear that the right to follow a chosen profession free from unreasonable governmental interference is a fundamental right protected by our state Constitution,” continued Maurer. “We will continue the fight to vindicate this right for Joe and Ron.”

The Court of Appeals ruled that courts must be very deferential to laws enacted under the inherent power of the government and, as such, held that “we defer to [the City’s] decision to contract exclusively with Rabanco and Waste Management.” But the Washington Constitution’s Privileges or Immunities Clause specifically forbids the government from engaging in economic favoritism, and that’s exactly what the City of Seattle did. The entrepreneurs are simply asking the courts to enforce that Constitutional guarantee.

“We are simply asking the state Supreme Court to again recognize the rights of small businesspeople to practice 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. IJ-WA filed its lawsuit on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 and the Court of Appeals issued its decision on February 14, 2005.