Suits against city redrawn

The businesses that filed suit against the city of Augusta over its purchasing practices must restate their case, a federal judge ruled.

 

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge W. Leon Barfield gave Thompson Building Wrecking and fellow plaintiffs 20 days to spell out specifics in their allegations of unequal treatment when doing business with the city's procurement department.

In an order issued Friday, Judge Barfield agreed with the city's attorneys that the plaintiffs' claims as stated in the federal lawsuit filed in February are too vague.

The judge found allegations that the city's contracts are awarded arbitrarily too broad. Contending that some businesses are held to a strict adherence to the rules while others are allowed to slide in their compliance is too general, according to the ruling.

"This 'shotgun' approach to pleading has been repeatedly condemned in the Eleventh Circuit and does not give the requisite, specific notice due to defendants," Judge Barfield wrote.

Although the lawsuit did offer some specific details in alleging that Procurement Director Geri Sams made false statements about specific bids at a city commission meeting June 29, 2006, and Feb. 6 of this year, it didn't go far enough, the judge said.

"There is no description of what the representations and statements were," Judge Barfield wrote.

In subsequent court documents, the plaintiffs alleged that businesses formerly classified as disadvantaged were awarded bids under circumstances that led to nondisadvantaged businesses being rejected. Judge Barfield wrote in his order that to make an equal protection claim, the plaintiffs must be more specific than saying "similarly situated" and "other" individuals.

Through its court documents, the city has denied any inappropriate dealings in awarding contracts for purchase of goods and services.

Thompson Building, CSRA Testing & Engineering Co., Artistic Design & Promotions and the Association for Fair Government are the plaintiffs in the federal case.

In addition to the allegations of fraud and unfair practices, the plaintiffs contend that the city's purchasing practices unnecessarily waste taxpayers' money.

Plaintiffs' attorney Robert A. Mullins said the complaint will be amended.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.