Wednesday, May 18, 2011

State high court hears claims in lawsuit over trash districts

From the Call Newspapers
Staff ReporterMay 18, 2011 - JEFFERSON CITY —

Supreme Court judges ask attorneys about statute requiring two years' notice

Attorneys for parties in a class-action suit over the county's trash-collection districts argued their case last week before the Missouri Supreme Court.

The judges took the case — the first of several lawsuits over the trash program to reach their courtroom — under submission following roughly 40 minutes of oral arguments May 11.

Three county residents want three waste haulers to refund households all the fees they've collected since they began exclusively serving eight trash districts in unincorporated areas some three years ago.

Plaintiffs Cathy Armbruster of Lemay, Paul Marquis of Fenton and Mike Weber of Oakville in September 2009 sued the county and Allied Waste, IESI and Veolia Environmental Services, which remains a defendant despite pulling its operations out of the St. Louis area last October.

The plaintiffs contend the trash program is illegal and void because the county did not put it to a vote as they say is required by the Charter, and also because it did not provide waste haulers with a state-required minimum two years' written notification before establishing trash districts.

A state appellate court panel in November upheld most of a county circuit court's earlier dismissal of the case. The plaintiffs appealed, and the state Supreme Court in March agreed to hear their case.

"My clients are citizens, are taxpayers, are residents of three different trash districts established by St. Louis County and so they have standing because one, they are subject to the illegal ordinance; they have standing, two, because their tax moneys are being spent on this illegal scheme; and three, they were some of the people who were supposed to vote on this had St. Louis County had actually obeyed their Charter," plaintiffs' attorney Rob Schultz told the seven judges of the state Supreme Court last week.

The plaintiffs cite a section of the county Charter that states the County Council "shall have, by ordinance, the power to ... provide for the creation of districts in the unincorporated areas of the county within which may be provided ... garbage and refuse collection and disposal, and such kindred facilities as the voters therein by a majority of those voting thereon may approve, the same to be paid for from funds raised by special assessment, general taxation or service charge ..."

The county has argued that its Charter provides for the establishment of trash districts without an election, citing sections that state the council can "(c)ollect and dispose of ... garbage and refuse, or license and regulate such collection and disposal," and one that authorizes the council to "(f)urnish or provide within the part of the county outside incorporated cities any service or function of any municipality."

Schultz said while residents don't pay the county directly for trash service, they are required to pay their assigned trash-district hauler or face prosecution. That enforcement of the trash program is funded with taxpayer money, he added.

County Counselor Patricia Redington argued that residents pay their trash hauler for service; the trash districts themselves do not raise funds as described in the Charter section that requires an election, she said.

Redington also contended the state's two-year notice provision was "wholly irrelevant" to the class-action suit.

She asked the high court to correct a precedent set by the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals in the separate case of three waste haulers that sued the county for it not providing two years' written notification of its forthcoming trash program.

While Redington has contended the 2007 Missouri law requiring a two-year notice doesn't apply because of the county's Charter status, the appellate court ruled in 2008 that statute 260.247 was a "general statute of statewide public policy" and that the county couldn't override it.


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  1. Anonymous4:47 PM

    So, what happens if the courts overturn St. Louis County actions???

    How does this situation get remedied?

    How can hauling companies be held liable for contracts that were dealt out by St. Louis County?

    What is next?

  2. Anonymous11:11 AM

    St. Louis County should be required to reimburse both the citizens who were not given the opportunity to vote on trash districts, per their own charter, and the haulers that were unjustly excluded from doing business in St. Louis County due to there failure to abide by state law. Then they can be sued out of even more money by the haulers that did get contracts for illegally entering into the contracts in the first place. Does anyone really believe Dooley and the county council would learn from something like that?

  3. Anonymous8:46 AM

    These companies knew what they were getting into. I believe Aspen Waste backed out of their contract because of the potential liability with these lawsuits.

  4. Anonymous7:59 AM

    So, what is happening with these lawsuites?
    When will the courts rule?
    The county has already rebid and rewarded all the waste districts for another 5 years.
    When will some ruling(s) be handed out.
    St. Louis county is governed by a bunch of incompetents.

    Looking for some Waste updates.