Raleigh Bruner thought his thriving moving company was doing everything right.
With seven trucks and 36 employees, Wildcat Moving is ranked by Angie's List as the top moving company in Kentucky. After starting in 2011, the company's revenue topped $500,000 in 2012 and is expected to surpass $1 million this year.
There's just one problem: The company is operating illegally, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
In April 2012, transportation officials sent a letter to Wildcat Moving ordering it to apply for a household-goods certificate. The certificate, which has been required since the 1950s, gives companies the legal right to carry goods throughout Kentucky.
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To get a certificate, an owner must prove that a need exists for a new moving company. If an existing company challenges the certificate, the battle moves to court, where companies often argue that allowing another mover would hurt their business and the overall economy.
Since 2008, no Kentucky company has received a certificate after having its application protested by another moving company. Instead, companies have resorted to buying existing permits at prices of $20,000 to $50,000, according to Bruner and his attorneys.
"We decided that we weren't going to subject ourselves to this unfair and anti-competitive and generally unconstitutional process," Bruner said.
He filed a federal lawsuit in August 2012, challenging the legality of Kentucky's certificate process. The Transportation Cabinet responded this month with its own lawsuit in state court, seeking to shut down Wildcat Moving until it obtains a household-goods certificate.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves ruled that the state would have to drop its lawsuit against Bruner until the federal lawsuit is complete. He also said Wildcat Moving may operate without the certificate until the lawsuit is resolved.
Reeves has not yet ruled on the constitutionality of the state's certification process. Until that happens, Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe said, the state will comply with Reeves' order.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based legal group that fights for limited government, is representing Bruner for free. The group is fighting a similar battle in Nevada and has won previous fights in Missouri and Oregon.
In those states, lawmakers ultimately resolved the issue, said Joshua Thompson, an attorney representing Bruner.
In Kentucky, Bruner worked with the National Federation of Independent Business during the state legislative session this year to amend the law governing the household-goods certificate.
Senate Bill 132, sponsored by Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, would have removed the requirement that a moving company prove the necessity of its services. The bill cleared the Senate but never got a hearing in the House Transportation Committee.
Tom Underwood, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, lobbied for the bill and said he is confident the House will pass the measure next year.
"There were constituents on both sides of the issue, and everyone wanted to step back and make a fine judgment," Underwood said.
Bruner said the government should have no part in determining whether a private company should exist.
"They are violating my rights by saying I cannot earn a living," he said.
Other moving companies feel differently.
Dennis Tolson, president and general manager of moving company Vincent Fister Inc., said the law is fair. He said other moving companies are not conspiring against Bruner.
"The whole implication is that these big bully movers are trying to get him out of town, and we just want him to get legal," Tolson said.
Bruner, however, said he feels bullied and harassed by other moving companies that are worried about his growing business. He said other companies often call police about Wildcat Moving trucks, resulting in multiple inspections and citations.
"Only the moving industry would want to keep the law the same," Bruner said.