Federal judge upholds city ambulance monopoly
Jeremy M. Lazarus | 8/30/2019, 6 a.m.
Richmond has won its legal fight to maintain a monopoly over providing emergency and non-emergency ambulance service after Richmond City Council forced Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration to mount a vigorous defense.
U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. handed the city the victory in rejecting a private company’s claims that the city was illegally preventing it from gaining a permit to operate non-emergency transport service to and from the McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center in South Side.
The company, Western Star Hospital Authority of Atlanta and its Henrico-based subsidiary, Metro Health EMS, argued that the city created through its Richmond Ambulance Authority an illegal monopoly on ambulance service that interfered with the company’s business and violated its rights.
In his Aug. 8 decision, Judge Gibney agreed with a 22-year-old decision that upheld RAA’s monopoly in the first test of this issue.
In the 1997 case, the federal district court found that Richmond and other localities were immune from suit as a valid state law authorized them to set up monopolistic authorities to conduct ambulance operations to ensure quality emergency service to all residents.
“The city has done precisely what the state law contemplates, determining that ‘(it) is in the best interest of the city to create and to regulate a unified emergency medical service,’ ” the judge wrote.
Along with again finding that the city and RAA were immune from antitrust suits, Judge Gibney also dismissed Western Star’s other arguments involving violation of due
process, equal protection and its right to do business without interference.
Last year, the Stoney administration sought to settle the suit by proposing to award a franchise to Metro Health EMS to operate in the city. But the council, led on this issue by 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, chair of council’s Public Safety Committee, blocked the action.
Ms. Trammell and other members killed the legislation after RAA’s chief executive Chip Decker argued that allowing Metro Health to operate non-emergency service in the city would cost the authority crucial revenue that it uses to support the more expensive citywide emergency service.
Non-emergency transports contribute more than $1.6 million a year to RAA’s bottom line, which helps keep down the city’s annual subsidy to RAA for emergency service.