Republic enters the fray with new lawsuit against Rubicon in Illinois
- Republic Services has filed a new complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order against Rubicon Global in Cook County, IL. The complaint, dated Oct. 31, alleges four counts of conversion, tortious interference and violation of the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The subsequent motion for a TRO, filed Nov. 2, seeks a permanent injunction against Rubicon interfering with Republic's contracts or towing any of its containers. Republic is also seeking compensatory and punitive damages for what it describes as "malicious, aggravated, and outrageous" conduct.
- Similar to past lawsuits against Rubicon, Republic is taking issue with its competitive tactics. The complaint and supporting TRO documents include numerous accounts from small business customers around Chicago that were allegedly misled or penalized when they considered switching companies. According to the complaint, one customer was charged more than $14,000 in termination fees by Rubicon after deciding to stick with Republic. Ongoing issues with container towing, including some lost containers, are also described at length.
- Rubicon sent the following statement to Waste Dive in response. "With every lawsuit filed by Republic, it becomes crystal clear that this massive landfill company has one fundamental goal: stifling small businesses and quashing consumer choice. In their latest legal foray, Republic is claiming that small business owners aren't free to choose who picks up their waste and recycling. One can’t help wonder why Republic is afraid of some old-fashioned competition," wrote Michael Allegretti, senior vice president of policy and strategic initiatives. Republic said the complaint speaks for itself and declined further comment.
This is not the first time Republic has raised container towing issues with Rubicon or been critical of the company's business model. The complaint's description of Rubicon as a "cut-rate waste broker" and a "middle-man" tracks with critical comments Republic CEO Don Slager has made about brokers on multiple occasions. Rubicon identifies as a service provider and technology platform, not a broker, but the industry's other large players have also sought to pin them with that title. Waste Connections CEO Ron Mittelstaedt has been one of the most directly critical so far, and until now his company had been the primary actor when it came to lawsuits against Rubicon.
Republic's complaint is notable in that it marks an escalation of the ongoing legal battle. Though the Illinois suit follows a similar pattern to those that came before it. So far, the majority of cases have focused on Rubicon's methods of enticing customers away from their existing service provider by offering to pay liquidated damages for early contract termination and quoting a better price.
According to Rubicon, that can lead to resistance from the existing service provider and a delay in removing their container. That's when the tow trucks come in. According to Waste Connections and Republic, this towing can happen in an unsafe manner while negotiations are still ongoing with the customer. From there, many of the usual questions arise about contract terms, monetary obligations, proper towing notice and the geography of container placement in various parking lots. Rubicon maintains that healthy competition is all part of an open market system. The other companies say this is often illegal and damaging to their reputations.
So far, these cases have played out differently from state to state. In June, Waste Connections was granted a statewide injunction against Rubicon towing any containers within Louisiana for at least 14 days after all contract balances had been paid. The company has since said Rubicon may be violating those terms and is also seeking similar relief for its operations in Texas. Most recently, the issue came up in North Carolina where a resolution was reached out of court. A separate case about alleged theft of trade secrets is also ongoing in Georgia. The prevalence of these cases, and Republic's newly public role in the conversation, are yet another sign that Rubicon's lawyers will be staying busy for the foreseeable future.
Follow Cole Rosengren on Twitter