Calif. judge dismisses suit over alleged ambulance monopolies
The judge sided with the 12 cities by noting that the state legislature has favored local oversight of ambulance services
By Sean Emery
The Orange County Register
SANTA ANA, Calif. — A federal judge has dismissed a local ambulance company’s lawsuits that accused a dozen Orange County cities of running illegal monopolies over emergency services.
U.S. District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton, in a written ruling this week, sided with the cities by noting that the state Legislature has favored local oversight of ambulance services.
“Municipal oversight over emergency-medical response and ambulance services is an essential city function,” said Kendall MacVey, an attorney designated to argue on behalf of the cities during a recent hearing, in a statement. “A long-standing, critical role of local government was upheld with this decision.”
In a series of complaints filed last year at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana, AmeriCare MedServices – a family-owned business that operates emergency services in Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties – accused these cities of conspiring to “monopolize the market”: Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Orange, Newport Beach, La Habra, Fullerton, Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa, Garden Grove, Laguna Beach, Buena Park, and San Clemente.
Attorneys for AmeriCare contended that the existing ambulance contracts held back competition, arguing that opening the process up to more emergency service providers could lead to lower prices and better service.
AmeriCare was seeking damages, contending it was frozen out of getting a chance to win contracts from the cities.
Attorneys for the cities had countered that California law allows them to contract with any qualified ambulance company they choose, or provide the emergency services themselves. Many of the cities sued don’t go out to bid, because they choose to staff their own departments.
“While AmeriCare would have this court view emergency ambulance services as the equivalent of generic courier or transportation services, the patients whose lives are at risk expect and deserve more,” Attorney Philip D. Kohn wrote on behalf of Anaheim in a court filing.
In her ruling, Judge Staton agreed that the immunity provided by state law when it comes to ambulance services protected the various cities against the AmeriCare lawsuit.
Not targeted were the local cities that contract with the Orange County Fire Authority, which include Santa Ana, Irvine and most of South County.
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