Seattle Entrepreneurs and IJ Appeal Decision Upholding Seattle Trash Monopolies

John Kramer
John Kramer · March 8, 2004

Seattle, Wash.–Two Seattle entrepreneurs today appealed a trial court decision that allows the City of Seattle to create two government-enforced monopolies that may exclusively haul construction and demolition waste. The ruling, handed down last month by the King County Superior Court, allows the City to shut down small, local hauling companies so it may 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. The Institute for Justice Washington Chapter (IJ-WA), a Seattle-based public interest law firm that represents the entrepreneurs in this lawsuit, announced that it had appealed the decision to Division I of the Washington State Court of Appeals in Seattle.

“This begins the next phase of our fight to protect economic liberty here in Washington State,” said William R. Maurer, executive director of the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter. The 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. To vindicate this right requires that we continue this fight for Joe and Ron.”

The Superior Court’s ruling held 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.

“With this appeal, we plan to 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 IJ-WA filed its lawsuit Tuesday, May 13, 2003, and the Superior Court issued its decision February 23, 2004.