UPDATE: After Brief Denial, STITA Cab Wins Stay Against Port Of Seattle
In a fast-paced legal tennis match, after briefly having its restraining order denied, a State Court of Appeals Commissioner issued a stay late Monday in STITA Cab’s lawsuit against the Port of Seattle.
This means that, pending any other legal maneuvering, the Port will not be able to sign a contract with Yellow Cab.
Earlier Monday, King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzalez denied a restraining order filed by STITA to block the Port from signing the contract with Yellow Cab.
The contract for on-demand taxi service at Sea-Tac airport wonâ€™t be awarded until the court determines if the Port acted illegally. Judge Gonzalez heard STITAâ€™s case Feb. 4th, and issued his decision Monday afternoon.
STITA vowed to continue fighting. They immediately took the case to the State Court of Appeals, which agreed to issue a stay â€“ meaning the Port cannot sign with Yellow Cab until the legal issues are resolved.
The commissioner is expected to consider the merits of the case this week.
â€œWeâ€™re thrilled with this late-breaking win,â€ said Jesse Buttar, STITA cab owner. â€œWe know we have a case. We just want a fair shot at the airport contract.â€
On Jan. 29, STITA filed a complaint asking the court to halt the Port from signing a contract that violates state law. STITA seeks a fair and legal proposal process in which all bidders can compete on a level playing field.
In 1989, STITA â€“ a non-profit co-op with the greenest cab fleet in the country â€“ was created by the Port of Seattle to exclusively serve the airport and provide reliable service to airport users. Now, after an unfair proposal process, STITA and its approximately 450 members and drivers will essentially be put out of business.
In its lawsuit, STITA contends the Portâ€™s bidding process violated the state Airports Act because the Port discontinued its prior practice of charging fees to taxicabs based on the airportâ€™s actual cost of services provided to the cabbies. Instead, it required bidders to commit to pay an unfair concession fee of at least 10 percent of their airport-based revenues. This violates the Airports Act, which says airport concession fees must be based upon the Airportâ€™s actual cost of operations and be reasonable and uniform.
STITA contends the Portâ€™s bidding process caused a predatory bidding war among taxi companies which not only was illegal but will be financially devastating to the King County taxi industry.
STITAâ€™s lawsuit also contends that the Portâ€™s new concession fee violates the King County Code, which requires the King County Council to set the taxi meter rate at a level that is â€œjust and reasonable.â€ The Portâ€™s new concession fee cuts directly into the countyâ€™s taxi meter rate and prevents cab operators from receiving the gross receipts that they legally are entitled to receive.
Despite notice from STITA protesting these glaring problems with the process and proposed contract, the Port of Seattle declined to re-do its flawed proposal and said it would sign an agreement with Yellow Cab. STITA had no recourse but legal action.
On Monday (Feb. 8th), King County Superior Court Judge Steven Gonzales put up the first roadblock in a lawsuit filed by longtime Sea-Tac Airport vendor STITA Cab by denying its attempts to stop the Port of Seattle from signing a contract with Yellow Cab.
The exclusive taxicab contract was held by STITA for 20 years in a no-bid deal. After a harsh rebuke from the State Auditor over its contracting processes, the Port of Seattle issued a â€œRequest for Proposal,” or RFP, for the first time last fall.
Yellow Cab won the award with a bid of $18.3 million, which is $8 million greater than the bid STITA submitted. Yellow Cab was named a defendant in the lawsuit, along with the Port of Seattle and other taxi associations.
In issuing the ruling, Judge Gonzales noted that the RFP allowed for prospective bidders to file complaints, or injunctions, to any portion of the RFP document; Gonzales said, â€œThe Plaintiff had the opportunity to file a complaint during the process, and they did not. They only complained when they did not win the bid.â€
Yellow Cab will have to expand to meet its new agreement and may add up to 150 taxis, which could mean transferring over some STITA drivers, according to company representatives.
Without ruling on the lawsuit’s merits, Gonzalez said that STITA’s request for an injunction was damaged by the fact that it waited until after the bidding process to object. Had STITA won the contract, it’s “inconceivable” they would’ve sought an injunction, he said.
As we reported Feb. 1st:
In its lawsuit, STITA claimed that the Portâ€™s bidding process violated the state Airports Act, because the Port discontinued its prior practice of charging fees to taxicabs based on the airportâ€™s actual cost of services provided to the cabbies. Instead, it required bidders to commit to pay an unfair concession fee of at least 10 percent of their airport-based revenues. This violates the Airports Act, which says airport concession fees must be based upon the Airportâ€™s actual cost of operations and be reasonable and uniform.
STITA contends the Portâ€™s bidding process caused a “predatory bidding war among taxi companies which not only was illegal but will be financially devastating to the King County taxi industry.”
STITA has 216 cabs, 450 drivers, and claims to have brought in $10.58 million to the Port between 2004 and 2008.