NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 27, 2013

City, former fire chief sued by ambulance company

Ambulance firm files $5M defamation lawsuit

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Action Ambulance Service, Inc. has filed a $5 million lawsuit in Superior Court against former fire Chief Stephen Cutter and the city of Newburyport.

The Wilmington company, which still does business in this community, alleges that Cutter and the city engaged in unfair practices over the past few years “that have resulted in the loss of contracts for the company.”

Action Ambulance CEO Michael Woronka yesterday said that Cutter intentionally “sabotaged” the company but stated that he is not at liberty to disclose Cutter’s motives.

“When people in positions of influence engage in unlawful behavior that impedes fair competition,” said Woronka, “they must be held accountable.”

Cutter, 54, retired in March after more than three decades with the Fire Department. He was chief for his final 14 years. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mayor Donna Holaday yesterday said that she had received a copy of the lawsuit, but had not had time to study the document.

But she said that city officials did not make any statements or take any action that would have affected the contract between Action Ambulance and Anna Jaques Hospital.

Action Ambulance employs 280 employees in nine communities, including Newburyport, Rowley and Ipswich.

It maintains four emergency vehicles at 3 Graf Road here, and company officials say they have contracts with Country Manor Rehabilitation and Nursing Care and Port Healthcare Center, both on Low Street.

The company that holds the municipal contract for ambulance services here is Cataldo Ambulance Service.

The lawsuit argues that Action Ambulance could have won more business contracts without the interference of Cutter. It charges that the two defendants (Cutter and the city) engaged in four counts of unlawful behavior.

One complaint is solely against the city, and alleges “intentional interference with contractual relations.”

Three complaints are against the city and Cutter: “intentional interference with advantageous business relationships;” “unfair practices in violation of MGL Chapter 93A”; and “defamation.”

The suit alleges that Cutter worked actively against Action Ambulance.

In the short term, it asserts that Cutter’s actions led to the non-renewal of a contract between Action Ambulance and the Anna Jaques Hospital. The pact is scheduled to end Monday.

Focusing on the broader picture, the suit states that Cutter told municipal leaders in nearby communities that the Essex Country Fire Chiefs Association had revoked Action Ambulance’s membership.

Because membership in the ECFCA is sometimes a determining factor to a community’s decision on whether to award ambulance service contracts, the suit alleges that Cutter was hampering Action Ambulance’s chances to win new business.

The suit alleges that “defendant Cutter, individually and in his capacity as an official of Newburyport, instigated the revocation of Action Ambulance’s membership in the ECFCA.”

Lawyers for Action Ambulance are asking for about $5 million or, “up to three, but not less than two, times plaintiff’s actual damages resulting from defendants’ violation (of law), plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.”

Officials of Action Ambulance said they will provide more details of Cutter’s involvement as the suit progresses.

An estimated maximum timeline for the case, according the the Trial Court Information Center, shows the discovery date would be April 16 and dates for disposition would be April 11, 2015.