Griga Line, James Bus and BBA vindicated by Court ruling against transport authorities
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 9, 2023
Bryant Williams of Griga Line, James Williams, Jr. of James Bus Line, and the Belize Bus Association (BBA) have been victorious in a lawsuit against transport authorities regarding the award of road service permits to Floralia Ltd. High Court Justice Geneviève Chabot today ordered that Floralia’s runs must end effective Sunday, December 10, at 12:01 a.m. However, all companies can reapply for road service permits between now and then. One of the attorneys for the claimants, Senior Counsel Dean Barrow told Amandala this evening that “the Transport Board (which was severely chastised by the Court) will have to be extremely careful to follow the proper procedure and not disadvantage the Williamses and any other interested bus owners.” The Judge explained that the delay in the date when the judgment goes into effect is in order to limit any hardship on the public so that the Transport Board can make adjustments to ensure the continuity of service along the affected routes.
Justice Chabot found that road service permits granted to Floralia on November 24, 2021, for Punta Gorda to Belize City, and for Independence to Belize City on February 9, 2022, alongside the rejection of applications by Bryant Williams for runs he previously had from Dangriga to Belize City, were unlawful and ultra vires.
The defendants in the case, which was heard in May and June of this year, were the Minister of Transport, the Transport Board, the Chief Transport Officer, the Chair of the Transport Board, and the CEO in the Ministry of Transport. They were defended by Deputy Solicitor General Samantha Matute and Crown Counsel Alea Gomez. Floralia participated in the civil claim, No. 134 of 2022, as an interested party, and was represented by Wayne A. Piper.
Justice Chabot determined that the defendants breached the claimants’ statutory and natural justice right to be heard when making their decisions regarding the applications, and also that the Transport Board abdicated its duty to consider and decide road service permits applications from ALL parties as per the defendants’ legitimate expectations according to the laws. Based on minutes of meetings, the Judge determined that Bryant Williams’ applications were discussed but not formally considered. They were merely “brought up.”
Justice Chabot handed down an order of certiorari quashing the award of the road service permits to Floralia, and the Transport Board is now required to properly consider the applications of all parties – according to the law. Damages were awarded to the claimants, but the quantum has yet to be assessed according to the Civil Procedure Rules of the High Court. The Judge declined to order damages, for now, in line with what the claimants outlined in their affidavits. Costs were also awarded to the claimants.
The claimants alleged that the defendants failed to consider applications in accordance with the statutory regime that was in place and instead, took irrelevant factors into consideration, whereas the defendants maintained that they acted fairly and in compliance with the statutory regime. The Judge declined to consider that irrelevant factors were relied on, as she found there was insufficient evidence on what matters were considered. She only found that the Board failed to consider relevant matters.
Bryant Williams was operating under a road service permit granted to his family member, Calbert Williams, Sr. (now deceased) on October 19, 2013. He got renewals and additional permits up to October 18, 2021, and then only received an extension up to December 2021. Renewals he sought thereafter were denied on or around March 11, 2022. In the case of James Bus Line, the company operated runs from Punta Gorda to Belize City under 14 road service permits set to expire in June of 2023. The two claimants allege that they lost substantial revenue since Floralia began operating runs that were within 15 to 30 minutes of theirs. Floralia’s Punta Gorda to Belize City runs started in December 2021, while its Independence to Belize City runs started in February 2022. Bryant Williams was notified about the non-renewal of his Dangriga-Belize City runs on or around February 9, 2022, though he says he had a legitimate expectation he would receive renewals according to the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act and the Regulations.
The allegations surrounding Floralia are that the company did not formally apply to the Transport Board for Road Service Permits, and that even if it did, they were not considered by the Board according to the law. A major point raised is that the dates for the meetings at which the applications were considered were not published in the Gazette as required under the Regulations. The claimants further allege that, because Floralia’s road service permit applications were not submitted to the Board for consideration and approval, they did not have any opportunity to raise objections to its applications. In her analysis, Justice Chabot highlighted the section of the Regulations which outlines that persons already providing service on the routes being applied for, can make representation regarding new applications at the meeting. In an affidavit of the then Chief Transport Officer, Dian Vasquez, she indicated that the date for the meeting to consider Floralia’s application for the Punta Gorda to Belize City runs was published in three Gazettes dated October 30, 2021, November 6, 2021, and November 13, 2021. However, none of those publications indicate the date of the Transport Board meeting. The last notice was actually published the day AFTER the meeting took place. Additionally, the Court determined that notices in the Gazette for meetings to consider amendments to Floralia’s permits to address scheduling issues were also not published as required. Notably, there were no Gazette publications whatsoever for Floralia’s applications for the Independence to Belize City runs. Gazette publications were exhibited, but none mentioned Floralia. Conflicting dates for the publications were also provided by the Chairman of the Transport Board. Justice Chabot considered those discrepancies troubling, and said they “seriously damaged the defendants’ credibility in the eyes of the court.”
Even more concerning is the allegation that the Minister of Transport unilaterally decided that Floralia’s applications should be approved, when the Minister does not have the discretion to make such a decision under the Act or the Regulations. The Judge found in favour with the claimants that he therefore acted outside his lawful powers. In essence, the claim made by the claimants is that they were unfairly treated when Floralia and one D-line were given the runs that were not renewed for Bryant Williams.
Attorney Darinka Muñoz joined S.C. Dean Barrow in representation of the claimants.