State, bankrupt paving company, settle costly suits

The Georgia Department of Transportation has settled a raft of lawsuits brought by a South Georgia paving company that has dragged on for nearly a decade and cost the state more than $6 million in legal fees.

A settlement of $120,000 was recently finalized with Douglas Asphalt. That’s a far cry from the $10 million settlement Douglas Asphalt’s lawyers said they wanted when the case was set for trial in Turner County in September.

In the lawsuits, Douglas Asphalt’s owner, Joel Spivey, claimed GDOT used faulty tests to discredit his work, cancel his paving contracts and put him and more than 500 of his employees out of business. The state argued that Douglas Asphalt’s work was shoddy and that it was justified in firing the company.

The settlement averted a courtroom showdown, but the tentative deal still had to be approved by the federal court that is presiding over Douglas Asphalt’s bankruptcy case. Matt Cline, general counsel for GDOT, announced that a final settlement had been approved Thursday at a state transportation board meeting.

Brent Savage, the attorney who would have represented Douglas Asphalt at trial, said the settlement was accepted because he had to work with the bankruptcy trustee to start liquidating the company’s assets and repaying its debts.

“It’s disgusting what happened to Douglas Asphalt,” Savage said. “Any time we could get to a jury we did well, but that’s the way it is.”

The saga started in 2004, when GDOT found Douglas Asphalt in default on its contract for work on I-95 in Glynn and McIntosh counties after potholes started to appear on the coastal Georgia highway. The state subsequently canceled a $55 million contract to pave parts of I-75 in Turner and Crisp counties, and it took 100 other projects away from the company.

GDOT also removed the company from the state’s approved bidders list for all future road projects.

As a result, the company folded and about 550 employees lost their jobs.

GDOT still has a $2.5 million claim outstanding against Douglas Asphalt from a victory in a related Fulton County case, according to Cline. However, it’s unclear whether that debt is collectible since the company is in bankruptcy.