MedicOne lawsuit dismissed on lack of standing

Sue Guinn Legg • Mar 29, 2019 at 9:39 PM

ERWIN — A Unicoi County resident’s lawsuit seeking to set aside the county’s award of a new ambulance service contract to MedicOne Medical Response has been dismissed.

Chancellor John Rambo announced the dismissal Friday morning in Unicoi County Chancery Court.

John Day filed the suit against the county’s mayor and commissioners in December, alleging the process by which the county advertised the contract for bids violated Tennessee purchasing laws and resulted in MedicOne being the only company to submit a bid.

The county responded with a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, contending Day lacked standing to bring the lawsuit because he had not suffered any personal injury for which a court could grant relief.

In a March 15 hearing of the motion for dismissal, Day argued the county’s bidding process was flawed and had resulted in an illegal expenditure of public funds that established his standing to bring the suit as a county taxpayer.

In a 10-page written ruling granting the dismissal, Rambo found Day had failed to alleged any injury to himself not shared with all county taxpayers, and also failed to establish the element of legality essential to his standing to challenge the county’s expenditure of public funds.

The ruling states, while there are exceptions, “the rule in Tennessee is well established that citizens and taxpayers are without standing to maintain a lawsuit to restrain or direct governmental action unless they first allege and establish that they will suffer some special injury not common to citizens and taxpayers generally.”

On the issue of legality, Rambo found “the defendants have the legal authority to contract for ambulance services” and “the provision of ambulance service is a proper function of local government.”

Day had specifically alleged the county failed to provide its request for bids to two national ambulance service companies that met with county officials in April to express interest in bidding on the contract.

He further alleged the county advertised for bids in a publication that circulated in an area in which MedicOne was the only private ambulance company in operation and the only one that would have seen the advertisement.

The current MedicalOne contract is set to expire and the new contract is scheduled to take effect on Monday. Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said a final draft of the contract has been mailed to MedicOne CEO Jim Reeves for signature but had not been returned to the county as of Friday morning.

Asked for his reaction to the chancellor’s ruling, Evely said he was grateful. “I think the commission acted in good faith. I’m grateful it’s been dismissed. It gives us the opportunity to move forward and hopefully we’ll be able to establish a good service.”

County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas said he notified Reeves of the lawsuit’s dismissal Friday morning and felt good about MedicOne finalizing the contract. “I’m ready to move forward,” he said.

Commissioner John Mosley, who chairs the commission’s ambulance committee, said the committee will meet monthly to monitor MedicOne’s performance, including any requests for assistance from Washington County’s ambulances services and the number of MedicOne trucks that were on the road at that time the requests are made.

Mosley said the committee’s goal is to address any problems anyone may have with the ambulance service and to keep everyone in the loop. “I feel confident MedicOne is headed in the right directioin and will do a fantastic job.” he said.

Day issued a written statement following the ruling in which he said, while it “wasn’t exactly what I expected,” based on his research of dozens of unsuccessful lawsuits filed by citizens against local governments in Tennessee, he was not surprised.

Day thanked members of a small community group that formed in support of his request for the county to rebid the contract and encouraged all county residents to be vigilant in giving their elected leaders their input.

Day also advised Unicoi County citizens, “Don’t waste your time and money suing the government — you can’t win. If it comes down to suing them, we should not have elected them in the first place.”

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