Judge dismisses Walco suit against county, Simmons on waste contract award

Civil complaint filed last year; decision delay due to appeal

A district judge has dismissed a lawsuit initiated last year by Walco, Inc., against Idaho County and Simmons Sanitation of Kamiah, that was seeking at least $1.2 million in alleged damages for not being awarded a contract for public solid waste collection.

In his 16-page decision, District Judge John R. Stegner ruled Walco did not have viable claims for tortious interference with contract and misappropriation of trade secrets in the county’s request for proposals (RFP) process and subsequent award in November 2012 to Simmons of a 10-year $77,202 monthly base rate contract award for solid waste collection services on the Camas Prairie and south into Elk City.

Walco previously held the contract for this service area and in the RFP had bid an $87,000 base rate.

Summary judgment in favor of the defendants in this case was granted orally by the court on Dec. 20, 2013. However, before a written decision could be completed, Walco moved for reconsideration of the judgment, which was heard before the court on April 7. The court recently completed and issued in writing Thursday, May 29.

In Judge Stegner’s conclusion, while he finds for the defendants, he also adds Walco had some merit in its dispute with the county.

“Walco argued at length that the procurement process in this case was fundamentally unfair,” Stegner wrote. “Indeed, there is evidence that one of Idaho County’s commissioners inappropriately engaged in lengthy conversations with Walco’s competitor after the RFPs were unsealed and before Idaho County executed a contract with that competitor.”

“However,” Stegner continued, “this is not the cause of action that Walco chose to pursue. Instead, it chose to assert a claim of tortious interference, which it later conceded was not valid, and a misappropriation of a trade secret claim, which is not a viable claim under these facts.”

Speaking for Idaho County, Commissioner Skip Brandt said, “We welcome the court’s good decision,” and declined further comment pending possible furtherance of this legal action in an appeal by Walco.

As of press time, Walco did not respond to the Free Press when contacted for comment regarding this judgment.

Walco’s lawsuit followed the county’s solid waste contract award in November 2012 to Simmons. Walco brought action against the county and Simmons – first in a tort claim filed in January 2013, which was denied by the county, and then the lawsuit filed in March 2013 — claiming intentional interference with an economic expectancy and misappropriation of a trade secret under the Idaho Trade Secrets Act.

As part of Stegner’s granting summary judgment for dismissal in this lawsuit, he considered Walco’s claim that the amount it bid for the contract constituted a trade secret. Assuming for the sake of argument Walco’s submission contained valuable proprietary information, according to Stegner, “the facts of this case would not allow a reasonable jury to conclude that Walco made reasonable efforts to maintain the confidentiality of its trade secret.”

Among those facts was nothing to suggest Walco restricted access to its RFP submission, including Walco employees discussing submission information in public meetings where anyone could attend and learn the contents; no evidence it took efforts to protect the confidentiality of the information internally; and there was nothing in the submission – a mark of “confidential” or advance agreements to maintain confidentiality — indicating it was a trade secret. Also, under the Public Records Act, it is presumed that information provided to a public body is public. Stegner noted that at one commission meeting concerning the RFPs, Simmons asked to have its submission considered in an executive session, implying it was confidential, to which Walco objected.

“Walco cannot contend that its submission was confidential and at the same time argue its competitor’s submission was public,” Stegner wrote.

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