Antitrust plaintiffs take another swipe at Chicago's $1.1 bln parking-meter deal

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REUTERS/John Gress

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  • Drivers assert 75-year contract with private company violates federal competition law
  • Trial judge applied legal immunity shield in dismissing lawsuit

(Reuters) - Chicago drivers on Tuesday asked a U.S. appeals court to force the city to open up the operation of its parking meters to competition, as the plaintiffs' lawyers pressed their claims that an exclusive public-private partnership worth $1.1 billion violates federal antitrust law.

The plaintiffs filed their opening brief in the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that a U.S. federal judge was wrong to conclude Chicago Parking Meters LLC (CPM) enjoys immunity from antitrust law based on the 75-year deal it reached with the city in 2008.

The drivers are not seeking money damages but want to compel Chicago to consider competitors.

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"Chicago has given CPM an unregulated 75-year monopoly depriving the city of its full regulatory authority over the streets and public ways not for three or four years, but rather, for close to a century," Thomas Geoghegan of Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan wrote for the plaintiffs. "And it is an exclusive contract that is impossible to cancel unless the city pays billions and billions of dollars to do so."

Geoghegan on Wednesday declined to comment about the case, filed in 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Chicago Parking Meters' lawyers at Winston & Strawn, including Dan Webb, co-executive chairman of the firm, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last September, they urged U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly to dismiss the drivers' lawsuit. The defense lawyers argued the plaintiffs had not shown they were harmed and that the company was immune from federal antitrust liability.

In dismissing the case, Kennelly in January applied the "state action" legal doctrine that can shield certain local government activities from federal antitrust liability.

The Chicago plaintiffs assert in their appeal that the shield does not extend to a private entity.

Geoghegan's court filing said there is no "'clearly articulated' state policy in favor of turning over the control of city curb space to a private party."

Chicago Parking Meters does business as ParkChicago and is responsible for the city's 36,000 metered spaces, the third largest system in the United States.

ParkChicago's website said more than 80% of the city's metered spaces average $2.50 per hour. The downtown area has the highest rate at $7 hourly.

Parking revenue in 2020 in Chicago was $91.6 million, down from $138 million in 2019, according to an audit the city posted last year.

The case is Uetricht et al v. Chicago Parking Meters LLC, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-1166.

For plaintiffs: Thomas Geoghegan of Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan

For Chicago Parking Meters LLC: Dan Webb of Winston & Strawn

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