Washington Supreme Court Hears Civil Rights Appeal

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · March 22, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Today, Washington’s highest court will hear 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 in the occupation of his choice when it created construction waste-hauling monopolies for two enormous, out-of-state corporations, making it illegal for Joe to practice his trade.

“We’re confident the Washington Supreme Court will not permit the government to force small entrepreneurs like Joe out of business just to protect entrenched special interests from competition,” said William Maurer, executive director for the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter (IJ-WA), which represents Joe. “This case has absolutely nothing to do with health and safety and everything to do with using government power to protect private companies from competition. The government can’t abuse the civil rights of everyday entrepreneurs merely to benefit others with more clout.”

The case was filed on behalf of Joe Ventenbergs, who owns Seattle-based Kendall Trucking, Inc., and Ron Haider, owner of the Lynnwood-based Haider Construction, Inc. Joe sought the opportunity to haul waste from construction and demolition sites. Ron wants to hire Joe for this purpose, but the city requires Ron to use one of the two out-of-state corporations that were granted monopolies on each side of Seattle. Rather than encourage local entrepreneurs, like Joe and Ron, the city made it illegal for them to do business with each other.

Joe and Ron 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 determined to vindicate the right of all Washingtonians to earn an honest living in the occupation of their choice free from excessive government regulation,” said IJ-WA staff attorney Michael Bindas. “The Institute for Justice is fighting the trend in this state in which governments go out of their way to protect large corporations while violating the civil rights of hard-working, small businessmen and women through discriminatory regulations. The Washington Supreme Court now has the opportunity to reverse that trend.”