ILNews

Court rules on privatization, public bidding

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today that state officials violated the law by not adhering to the public bidding process when privatizing a Fort Wayne development center two years ago.

In Anita Stuller, et al. v. Mitchell Daniels Jr., et al., 02A05-0601-CV-22, the court unanimously reversed and remanded the case to Allen Superior Judge Nancy Boyer with instructions to hold a hearing to determine if a preliminary injunction should be granted.

The 27-page opinion points out that Judge Boyer misinterpreted a state statute governing bidding processes when ruling it didn't apply to an agreement between the state's Family and Social Services Agency and a Pennsylvania-based healthcare company in managing the Fort Wayne State Developmental Center, which housed developmentally disabled adults.

Filed in December 2005 against Gov. Mitch Daniels, Family and Social Services Administration Secretary Mitch Roob, and a third FSSA employee, the suit contends that administration officials ignored a state law requiring bids for a public-private agreement. The complaint stemmed from action earlier that year when Indiana entered a $3 million contract for 18 months with Liberty Healthcare Corp. to manage the center.

An employee, Anita Stuller, and her union, AFSCME Council 62, filed suit to stop the takeover of the facility and require the state to go through a public bidding process before giving control of the center to a private firm. But later that month, Judge Boyer refused to grant the injunction after reading another law authorized the FSSA to use "any procedure it deemed appropriate to acquire Liberty's services."

If that holding stood, the appellate judges wrote that it would practically nullify the provisions of Indiana Code § 5-23-5 in dealing with public-private agreements. Therefore, the trial court's decision "goes against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances."

"In this sense, every operating agreement may feasibly contain a phrase or particular service which is better served by the unique qualifications of an outside vendor, thereby placing all contracts outside the purview of public-private agreements," Judge Patricia Riley wrote, joined by Judges Michael Barnes and Terry Crone. "Accordingly, based on the evidence before us, we conclude the agreement is properly characterized as a public-private agreement, subject to the mandatory public bidding process."

As the FSSA committed a clear violation of the public bidding procedures, the plaintiffs-appellants suffered irreparable harm per se, according to the court. Touching on whether a preliminary injunction would serve public interest, the court noted the agreement could be as high as $95 million in taxpayer money and used that to reinforce its holding on I.C. 5-23 and the bidding process.

"An abandonment of these requirements would result in a situation where the government is encouraged to grant part of its public duties to private entities without any inquiry from the public," the opinion says. "While we do not object to the government turning to private companies in a desire to minimize costs and to enhance efficiency and flexibility, public oversight is nevertheless statutorily mandated for contracts falling within the realm of I.C. § 5-22."
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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