Meritain, an independent subsidiary of Aetna, filed the motion earlier this month in Richmond County Superior Court,
The company filed a civil suit after the Augusta Commission voted to give Blue Cross Blue Shield the contract to oversee the city employees’ self-insured health insurance fund Oct. 16. The commission then
denied Meritain’s bid protest Dec. 5.
Judge J. David Roper ruled in Meritain’s favor June 26 and ordered the city to rebid the potential $20 million contract for next year.
The city has asked the judge to reconsider, restating the same arguments that
already have failed to convince him.
Meritain is seeking $431,454 in damages – money the company says commissioners cost it needlessly.
Just more than $300,000 is for legal fees owed to Alston and Bird, an Atlanta firm experienced in government procurement litigation.
Meritain’s lawsuit followed numerous cases against Augusta on how the government awards contracts for goods and services. Such lawsuits face a significant legal hurdle; the government wins if there is any evidence supporting its choice in awarding a bid.
As Roper noted several times in his order, a judge is not allowed to substitute his own judgment over a governing body. The government’s bid award cannot be altered unless it has acted beyond its discretionary power, abused that discretion or acted in an arbitrary or capricious manner.
In a blistering rendition of the facts of the case, Roper found that commissioners voted to deny Meritain’s protest without hearing any evidence or public debate. He said the commission denied Meritain due process because neither the company nor anyone else had a chance to speak on the matter before the vote.
Roper agreed with Meritain’s legal team that state law and city ordinances were violated when the procurement director and the special consultant, who was romantically involved with a Blue Cross Blue Shield employee, changed the rules for the bid at the last minute, when Meritain was leading the pack by a wide margin
after the second round of judging.
The most unfair factor was that only Blue Cross Blue Shield, which had previously provided employees health insurance, had the information necessary to format a new bid proposal, the judge found.