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Neptun Loses Antitrust Case For Chicago Street Lighting Project

A federal judge in Chicago has thrown out an antitrust lawsuit filed by Neptun Lighting which claimed the city did not accept bids for its $160 million Smart Street Lighting Project.  In the ruling, Judge Amy J. St. Eve said purchasers of any product, including the city of Chicago for this lighting project, are allowed to “make decisions that are anything from uninformed to thriftless” and therefore should not be subject of antitrust lawsuits.

Neptune claims Chicago hired Ameresco to run the street lighting project, and Ameresco has a preference to work with GE Lighting. Neptun submitted it’s own proposal to provide the LED lighting, which included statements that its lighting outperformed GE Lighting in independent testing, could meet the necessary manufacturing needs for the project, and had already successfully completed street lighting projects in other cities.  Ameresco chose the GE lights, which Neptun claims cost itself millions and Chicago taxpayers even more.  In its legal filing, Neptun was also asking that the city cancel its contract with Ameresco for the entire project.

However, Judge St. Eve ruled, “Although the ‘manipulation’ of a ‘bidding process’ by a purchaser may give rise to ‘a claim grounded in tort or contract,’ the absence of any allegation of an anticompetitive effect prevents these claims from coming within the purview of the antitrust laws.” St. Eve added “Neptun’s clearest articulation of the alleged harm is that ‘desiring and selecting a more expensive and poorly-performing product in advance of any bidding, and irrespective of the performance is anticompetitive’. That theory has no recognition in the law (as evidenced by Neptun’s lack of caselaw support), and for good reason; otherwise, purchasers who make decisions that are anything from uninformed to thriftless would be subject to antitrust lawsuits and treble damages”.

The judge did give Neptun until May 7th to re-file an antitrust complaint.

The Chicago Street Lighting Project will replace about 85 % of the city’s street lights with smart LED lights.  Work on the project should take four years.

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