High court rules against county in antitrust suit
The Utah Supreme Court dealt Summit County a blow Friday ruling 5-0 that Third District Court Judge Robert Hilder erred in dismissing an antitrust lawsuit filed against the county and its Mountain Regional Water Special Service District by its private competitor Summit Water Distribution Company. In a 27-page opinion written by Chief Justice Christine Durham, the high court explains that the county s rationale for attempting to condemn Summit Water requires justices engage in curious logic and tortured analysis, said Robert Campbell, Summit Water s lead antitrust counsel, who plans to try county officials on the charges in district court for monetary damages. This is a landmark decision, Campbell said. After the county tried several years ago to condemn Summit Water during the formation of Mountain Regional, Summit Water filed the antitrust action. According to Campbell, former Summit County Commissioners Shauna Kerr, Eric Schifferli and Patrick Cone conspired illegally to run the decades-old water provider out of business. Who d have thought, Cone said Friday about the decision. That s disappointing. Anything that we did, we did for the people of Summit County. There was nothing in it for us. Attorneys for the county argue that the Utah Antitrust Act allows municipalities, more latitude related to condemnation when it serves the public. But counties aren t considered municipalities, Campbell said. It s a complete victory for Summit Water, Campbell said Friday during a telephone interview from New York City. State Supreme Court Justice Ronald Nehring recused himself from the decision. We hold that, even assuming the defendants qualify as municipalities & the activities at issue here were not authorized or directed by state law, and the defendants are therefore not exempt from the Utah Antitrust Act, the Supreme Court concluded. Summit Water claims that by requiring developers in the Snyderville Basin to purchase water from the county s Mountain Regional Water Special Service District in exchange for permit approvals, Summit County was able to triple its customers water rates and pursue a failed condemnation of the private company. Mountain Regional incurred about $30 million worth of debt during its formation. County officials deny that they have entered into tying agreements with developers on the West Side. [State law] doesn t authorize the county to go into a market of competitors and start to eliminate competition, Campbell said after arguing the case before the Supreme Court in March. There were very specific tying agreements. Summit County s water concurrency ordinance has also allowed Mountain Regional and the Summit County Commission to illegally burden competitors with expensive requirements to prove they have enough water to supply new growth, Campbell claims. Michael Zimmerman, the county s outside legal counsel, argues that the Utah Legislature exempted all governmental entities from antitrust prosecution with the formation of a power company in the 1970s. It s a disappointing decision because Summit Water and Mountain Regional had been working together and had just cooperatively settled a prior lawsuit and had committed to work together providing water from the Spring Creek source, Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer states in a press release. This decision will simply take them back to court in adversarial roles which benefits no one.
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