Former towing company sues Shelby over lost bid

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published November 25, 2015


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — For the third time since 2012, Shelby Township is involved in a towing lawsuit.

On Oct. 28, Ruehle’s Towing and Jimmy’s Towing Recovery and Transport sued Shelby Township, its Board of Trustees and individually Supervisor Richard Stathakis, Clerk Stan Grot, Treasurer Michael Flynn, trustee Paul Viar, trustee Paula Filar, trustee Doug Wozniak and Police Chief Robert Shelide.

Ruehle’s Towing had provided the township’s towing services since securing the contract on Feb.21, 2012.

The township put its towing services out to bid this summer and awarded a three-year contract in a 6-1 vote to Utica Van Dyke Service July 21. The contract became effective Sept. 1.

Township Attorney Rob Huth said the township hired towing consultant Shane Anders, secretary of the Michigan Towing Association, to help create a Michigan State Police-style request for proposals.

The state police model established fixed prices for all bidders.

Trustee Nick Nightingale, whose family owns a towing company previously contracted by the township, cast the single vote against awarding the contract to Utica Van Dyke Service. He said it was because the RFP took the competitive bidding out of the process and because the township inflated rates higher than the state police.

Huth said the best way to handle the selection process, according to the towing consultant, would be to have somebody impartial and objective review the proposals, so that was how Shelide got involved.

Shelide and officer Derek Stansbury inspected each of the five venues and awarded or subtracted points based on a 44-point scoring system.

Shelide said Ruehle’s Towing did not show up at a mandatory meeting for interested bidders and was disqualified. He said he was disappointed and surprised that Ruehle’s did not attend, because police personnel told him Ruehle’s service was exceptional.

Although he said he did not want to disqualify Ruehle’s, he felt it was the right thing to do to be fair to all the bidders.

Vito Strolis, owner of Ruehle’s Towing, said he missed the meeting because he had not been aware of it. He said he was able to partner with Jimmy’s Towing Recovery and Transport, who was at the mandatory meeting, as a broker, and they put a bid together.

Utica Van Dyke Service lost one point for being located in Sterling Heights, outside of Shelby Township. Jimmy’s Towing, Joe Ballor Towing and Byers Wrecking Service all lost two points.

Shelide said Jimmy’s Towing lost two points because it contracted out its lot and the lot was not secured.

“(Being involved in litigation) is unchartered waters for me,” Strolis said. “It’s not a matter of sour grapes. We just want to get some direction on a few things.”

The legal complaint alleges that Ruehle’s Towing and the township had an existing three-year contract for towing services, and that Shelby Township not exercising its right to terminate the contract after the expiration date “served to renew the agreement for an additional three years” per the agreement’s “plain language.”

The complaint also states that Shelide and/or individual board member defendants “preordained that UVDS would be awarded the contract and manufactured scoring results to fit that choice” because they “accepted dinner invitations to opulent restaurants, sporting or entertainment event tickets, and forms of influence engendering perks from UVDS principals.”

Dino Juncevic, owner of Utica Van Dyke Service, declined to comment under the advisement of his attorney.

The suit demands a jury trial and requests the township to restore Ruehle’s contract and pay Ruehle’s the “compensatory and exemplary damages in whatever amount they are found to be entitled, along with all costs, interest and attorneys fees incurred.”

Huth said he expects the court to uphold Michigan law and that a “disappointed losing bidder cannot bring this kind of action.”

“I think it’s outrageous that the suit was filed and, among other things, names the police chief personally,” Huth said. “I think the court should dismiss the suit promptly so that the township and the insurance company don’t incur significant legal fees.”

Eric Buikema, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said the suit was not about “spilled milk,” and accused those named in the lawsuit of not following the law due to “personal benefit, idiocy or carelessness.”

“We want the Shelby Township board to start behaving itself and follow the law holding it to fair process, instead of pretense,” he said. “This is not the first time they’re being sued for this issue. This is the third time they’re being sued for this issue.”

On Nov. 19, 2013, the Board of Trustees voted 6-1, with Flynn against, to settle a lawsuit filed against Shelby Township on June 18, 2012, by Nightingale Service for $745,000. The settlement and legal fees of about $266,700 cost the township more than $1 million.

On Sept. 28, 2012, Utica Van Dyke Service filed a lawsuit against the township. Huth said the case was resolved at no cost to Shelby Township.

All three suits contended breaches of contracts and failure to follow due process laws.

At press time, Huth said a court date had not yet been established.