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Judge sides with AMR in ambulance contract lawsuit

News Channel 3-12

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. — A Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge on Friday sided with  American Medical Response ambulance service lawsuit against the county.

According to court documents, Judge Donna Geck's ruling grants the company’s request for a preliminary injunction.

The judges preliminary injunction means temporary relief that preserves the status quo until the courts decide on the merits of the case. The preliminary injunction ruling also often involves asking a court to prevent an opposing party from taking specific action or continuing a current course of action.

A motion to stay was also ruled, which is an action taken by a court to stop a legal proceeding or the actions of a party. A stay most commonly is issued by a court as a stay of proceedings in order to stop litigation from continuing and are normally only temporary.

"The Board prejudicially abused its discretion in making the permit decisions by acting in excess of its jurisdiction and failing to proceed in a manner required by law," Judge Donna Geck said. "AMR also seeks a stay of the Board’s September 19, 2023 decision under Ordinance 5182 approving County Fire’s permit, and a stay of the decision denying AMR’s application for permit."

According to court documents, the ruling extends AMR's current contract with Santa Barbara County by "slightly more than 4 months after" or by approximately July 16, 2024.

AMR first brought the lawsuit forward tot he Santa Barbara Superior Court on Sept. 28th, alleging that County officials violated the Emergency Medical Service Act by awarding the ambulance contract to Santa Barbara County Fire Department on Sep. 19th, 2023.

In a statement sent to Your News Channel, AMR stated in an email that they were pleased with the courts findings.

"Although the litigation is not over, AMR’s top priority remains serving the Santa Barbara County community with the same high quality prehospital care it has provided for decades," said a spokesperson for AMR. "The dedicated team of AMR Santa Barbara has proudly served with excellence and remains steadfast to continue to serve the communities of Santa Barbara County in their roles with AMR."

In 2022, the process for selecting a new exclusive ambulance contract was opened up to bidding for the first time in 50 years. Santa Barbara County supervisors made a decision to throw out an exclusive contract, which AMR and SB County Fire applied — AMR scoring the highest.

In April 4th, 2023, the county replaced the exclusive contract and created a permit-based system with different contracts for emergency medical response and transports, for interfacility transfers and for critical care transfers.

Noozhawk reported, over the summer SBCFD "purchased and received 35 ambulances for a provider contract" it didn't have, prompting questions.

Andy Caldwell of the independent political news site, California Globe, first alleged, SBCFD "secretly ordered 35 new ambulances worth $3.6 million," claiming "ambulances began to be delivered in March 2023 before the county had created the new permit application process for ambulance services and several months before any permit holders will be chosen."

Last month, California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed an amicus brief in Santa Barbara Superior Court, supporting AMR's lawsuit against the county.

In the lawsuit AMR also claimed that the county violated California's Constitution section XIII C, better known as Proposition 26. The proposition mandates that local governments may not impose fees to generate revenue beyond the cost of providing a municipal service, without government approval.

Geck ruled AMR's claim that the county violated Prop 26, will be looked at on a later date.

The court is set to continue a case management and hearing on the preliminary injunction on Friday, January 5, 2024 at 3:00 p.m.

Your News Channel reached out the county, but did not respond for comment.

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Bryan Hernandez

Weekend Producer, Multi-media Journalist and Tipline investigations.

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