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Lakeside EMS, LLC v. County of Effingham

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 11, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants County of Effingham, Illinois (“Effingham County”), and James Niemann. Defendants ask the Court to dismiss or stay this case on abstention grounds or, alternatively, to dismiss it for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. 18). For the reasons set forth below, the Court dismisses this action on the grounds of abstention.


         Lakeside EMS, LLC, (“Lakeside”) is an ambulance service provider based in Shelby County, Illinois, that provides inter-facility transfer of hospital patients in and out of Effingham County (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 10, 21-23). Lakeside is licensed by the Illinois Department of Public Health, which has placed no restrictions on where Lakeside can provide ambulance services (Id. at ¶ 8, 20).

         On September 18, 2017, the Effingham County Board, with Defendant James Niemann as its Chairman, enacted Effingham County Ordinance Number 17-76 entitled, “Effingham County Ground Ambulance Service Ordinance Amending Ordinance 14-93” (“the Ordinance”) (Id. at ¶ 24). The Ordinance requires any ambulance service with a physical base of operation in Effingham County or that provides “routine service of Transfers from acute care facilities or as an Emergency Ambulance Services within the County” to “acquire a letter of authorization from the County Board, signed by not less than three Board Members.” (Id. at ¶ 25).

         The Ordinance permits the County Board to limit the number of authorization letters it issues, withdraw any letter of authorization it issues, or revoke any letter of authorization by a majority vote of the County Board (Id.).

         The Ordinance further provides:

That no person or entity, other than the contractor (“Mission Care of Illinois”) and ambulance services having a mutual aid agreement with the contractor, shall operate or cause to be operated a vehicle for emergency ground ambulance purposes, nor furnish, conduct, maintain, advertise, or otherwise be engaged in the business of service of the emergency transportation of patients within the County of Effingham.

(Id. at ¶ 27). Under this provision, Lakeside alleges, the Ordinance gives Mission Care of Illinois, LLC, d/b/a Abbott EMS (“Abbott”), the exclusive right to provide “emergency ambulance services” in Effingham County (Id. at ¶ 28). Lakeside has asked Niemann and the Effingham County Board for a letter of authorization, but the request has been denied without explanation (Id. at ¶¶ 34-36).

         On July 2, 2018, Niemann sent Lakeside a cease and desist letter demanding that it cease operations within Effingham County (Id. at ¶ 40). On July 20, 2018, the County filed a complaint and motion for injunctive relief in the Fourth Judicial Circuit of Illinois seeking an order enjoining Lakeside from operating within Effingham County (Id. at ¶ 41). Effingham County's motion for injunctive relief was denied, but the state court action remains pending (Id. at ¶¶ 42-43).

         Less than three months after the County filed the state court action seeking to stop Lakeside from operating in Effingham County, Lakeside filed the Complaint in this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). Lakeside alleges that the Ordinance purports to regulate intra-facility ambulance transfers but is actually intended to ensure fruitful employment for Defendant Niemann and his family members who are employed by Abbott (Id. at ¶¶ 64-67). And, while there are more than twenty ambulance services that routinely provide inter-facility transfers in and out of Effingham County, none of which have obtained a “letter of authorization” from Effingham County (other than Abbott), Lakeside is the only ambulance service that has been targeted by Effingham County (Id. at ¶¶ 51-55).

         Furthermore, Lakeside claims, Defendants have no legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-arbitrary purpose for enforcing the Ordinance against it. For example, at an August 23, 2018 hearing on Effingham's motion for injunctive relief in state court, Effingham County State's Attorney, Bryan Kibler, claimed that the reason for enforcing the Ordinance against Lakeside centers on Lakeside's advertising within the County of Effingham and specifically at St. Anthony's Medical Center (Id. at ¶ 58). The County does not have an ordinance regulating advertising by ambulance services within the County, however, and improper advertising activities is not a rational basis for enforcing the Ordinance against Lakeside (Id. at ¶ 60).

         Based on these facts, Lakeside claims that Defendants violated its procedural due process rights (Count I), that Defendants' conduct constitutes an unconstitutional regulatory taking (Count II), and that Defendants violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count III).

         Defendants have now moved to dismiss the case on several grounds (Doc. 18). First, Defendants assert the Younger abstention doctrine applies. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). Alternatively, Defendants assert the Pullman abstention doctrine applies. See Railroad Comm'n of Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941). Finally, Defendants assert non-abstention grounds for dismissing the case including improper claim ...

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