Several Clark County business owners trying to compete with Republic Services of Southern Nevada are waiting for help from elected officials that will likely not come. But some say a proposed class action lawsuit filed Friday against the waste management company is giving them steam to keep up with their cause.
Four business owners filed complaints Nov. 15 with the cities of Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas as well as with the county alleging Republic Services is using its exclusive franchise agreements with the municipalities to curb competition.
City and county officials said their hands are tied. Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said he has done all he can do in successfully encouraging Republic Services to offer a compromise to small business owners earlier this spring, which it was not obligated to do, and which small business owners rejected.
“I don’t know what (else) I could do,” Sisolak said.
Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said the best avenue for the small businesses who filed their “long overdue” complaints is in court.
Danielle Basson, chief executive officer of Simple ESG, a waste and recycling management company, said that really isn’t an option for her company.
“If we weren’t a small family-owned business, and had the resources to fight a monopoly in court, we would have a long time ago,” Basson said. “We have been forced to rely on our local government for support and to protect us against the unfortunate situations that the exclusive franchise agreements have put our business in.”
In Basson’s complaint to city and county officials she claimed “interference” by Republic Services cost the company an estimated $405,153.96 in annual contracted net revenue over the course of the last 18 to 24 months.
Chris Darling, manager of A Track Out Solution, a competitor with Republic Services in the construction and demolition market, said “nothing is off the table.”
Darling contended in his complaint that the county’s franchise agreement “has the appearance of penalizing” private companies working to recycle construction and demolition waste “while rewarding” Republic Services for “simply co-mingling their construction and demolition material with their curb-side municipal solid waste.”
Basson and Darling said the lawsuit gives them hope.
“I think it’s wonderful that someone is finally able to do it (file suit),” Basson said, adding that she would like to help the case in any way she can.
“We are hopeful that a law firm will look into the franchise dumpster pricing versus Republic Services’ competitive dumpster pricing and file a class action on behalf of the residents and businesses in Clark County,” Darling said.
The suit claims the waste-disposal company is illegally overcharging Clark County property owners by placing multiple $60 liens on homes for overdue trash bills.
A public records online search Wednesday shows over 3,000 active liens in Clark County as of this week.
A Republic spokesman said the company would not comment on pending legal matters beyond a statement issued to the Review-Journal last week.
“We believe our billing practices are consistent with the franchise agreement and our commitment to a community we are fortunate to serve,” Tim Oudman, market vice president with Republic Services, said in the statement.
Las Vegas-based attorney James Adams filed the lawsuit and said right now it is “narrowly focused” on the liens.
“If a class action lawsuit gets too complex, it gets more difficult to get class certified,” he said. “If there are other grievances, if there are other causes of action for other activities Republic is engaged in, it would be wiser to file a separate lawsuit — keep each lawsuit simple so it’s easier for everybody to understand what the injury was, what the applicable law is.”
Why is the lawsuit a "proposed" class action lawsuit?
Right now, it's a regular lawsuit with three named plaintiffs. Attorney James Adams is hoping that a judge will certify the lawsuit as a class action, because the three named plaintiffs represent a significant amount of people who also have been possibly overcharged.
Adams filed the lawsuit Friday, and now is waiting for Republic's response. Republic can either answer the complaint or file a motion to dismiss.
If Republic moves to dismiss the case, a hearing would be held. If the motion is denied then the case moves forward.
Adams said the next step would be for Republic to answer the complaint. They could either deny the allegations, admit to them, or claim that they do not have enough knowledge to admit or deny the allegations, which would legally serve as a denial.
If Republic denied the allegations, then Adams said he would file a motion in district court for class certification.
"Once we're class certified, we would then go ahead and conduct discovery — we'll probably be requesting all of their lien files and that sort of thing," Adams said. "We can identify everybody that was harmed. And then, once that's established we'd send out class notices and then the people that received the notices can either do nothing (and automatically be included in the class-action suit) or opt-out and then we would move forward with the case."
The lead plaintiffs are local real estate professional Maxwell Steinberg, Valtus Real Estate LLC and Rutt Premsrirut, who founded Valtus.
By NICOLE RAZ
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL