Oral arguments were heard at the Missouri Supreme Court on May 10, 2012.
In its 35 page decision , the seven member court ruled en banc in favor of the trash haulers by stating that St. Louis County failed to provide the trash haulers a two-year notice prior to the implementation of a trash districting program, as required by state statute. The court also ruled that the haulers were entitled to monetary damages and remanded the case back to the circuit court for a hearing to determine the amount of damages that are due each hauler. The court further held that St. Louis County must pay the haulers net profits for two years after the date the county entered into contracts with its “designated” haulers in each of the eight trash districts.
The victorious trash haulers were represented by Jane Dueker, while the unsuccessful St. Louis County was represented by seasoned county counselor, Patricia Redington.
While the high court’s decision was applauded by the successful trash haulers, it was devastating news for those St. Louis County officials who violated Missouri state law, thus placing county taxpayers on the hook for damages, which are estimated to exceed $23 million. As a point of reference, last year, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Barbara Wallace awarded damages of $799,593 to Waste Management, $261,086 to American Eagle and $99,224 to Meridian, for a total of $1,159,903. One doesn’t need to be a mathematician to determine that there is a big difference between $1.16 million versus $23 million.
After four years and four major lawsuits later, it appears that the final chapter is about to be written on St. Louis County’s controversial trash districting program, which will culminate in the St. Louis County Circuit Court of Judge Barbara Wallace. The original lawsuit was also filed in the circuit court, but was initially won by St. Louis County. The trash haulers subsequently appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District and were successful. County counselor Redington then moved the case to federal court in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. However, that court remanded the case back to the state circuit court where the county was once again the loser. As one can readily surmise, the county counselor has attempted about every possible legal maneuver to get a “win” for the county in the state and federal judicial system, much like a game of ping pong. But, now, after four years of spending taxpayer money fighting a monopolistic trash districting program and violating state law, St. Louis County finds itself up against a wall with no more options for appeal and no way out, much like a suspect surrounded by a S.W.A.T. team.
Even though the haulers will receive just compensation for lost business after being cut out of the county’s trash program, the infamous program will continue to operate as a near monopoly, consisting of only two trash haulers (Allied and IESI) for the entire county. However, those 300+ subdivisions that wisely “opted out” of the county’s program will forever be free to choose their own hauler(s), while those subdivisions and/or areas that did not or could not “opt-out” of the county program, will forever be forced to use the county’s “designated” haulers. The foregoing is the bone of contention about the whole program, as this fiasco could have been avoided had the county sought a vote of its residents on this controversial issue.
After 95+ e-mail communications since 2007 from this committee and Subdivision Trustees – St. Louis Metro Area, there will be at least one more communication concerning the final outcome of Judge Wallace’s ruling. Hopefully, that communication will put the contentious issue of “trash” in St. Louis County to rest for good. But, as the famous New York Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra always said, "It Ain't Over 'til It's Over."
The complete news story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is posted below for your convenience. In addition, the link to the audio interview between Mark Reardon of KMOX Radio and St. Louis County Council member Steve Stenger (6th District, South County) is as follows:
The interview runs 4 minutes and 36 seconds. In that interview, councilman Stenger firmly places the accountability for the infamous trash districting program on the shoulders of County Executive Charlie Dooley.