County judge awards $1.1 million in damages to three trash haulers

Three haulers collectively had claimed they were owed $23 million in damages.

By EVAN YOUNG

A county circuit court judge last week awarded more than $1.1 million in damages to three waste haulers who sued the county over the establishment of its trash-district program.

Judge Barbara Wallace on Sept. 2 ordered the county pay a total of $1,159,903.90 to American Eagle Waste, Meridian Waste and Waste Management in their suit that alleges the county failed to provide the state-required two years’ written notice it was establishing eight trash district in unincorporated areas.

Wallace awarded $261,086.65 to American Eagle Waste; $99,224.20 to Meridian and $799,593.05 to Waste Management. The haulers claimed they collectively were owed roughly $23 million.

County officials and the haulers’ attorney, Jane Dueker, were unavailable for comment before press time.

American Eagle Waste co-owner Bryan Barcom told the Call the plaintiffs were waiting to study Wallace’s full order before commenting.

“We know what she ruled, but she didn’t say why she ruled that way,” Barcom said Saturday. “So we can’t really do anything until we read her paperwork … There’s got to be a reason, we just don’t know what it is.”

Barcom noted American Eagle Waste asked for $5.2 million in damages.

The haulers sued in May 2008 after being outbid for contracts to exclusively serve the trash districts. Unauthorized haulers are prohibited from offering service to district residents.

The haulers’ case was heard in county, state and federal courts before reaching Wallace’s chambers early last year.

Wallace ruled in September 2010 that the county breached an implied contract with the haulers by not providing two years’ written notice. She decided in January that the plaintiffs were entitled to damages.

“The county’s action resulted in a finite loss to plaintiffs of 40,000 customers for the statutory two-year notice period,” she wrote in a Jan. 25 opinion. “By enforcing the exclusivity of its trash hauling districts, the county has effectively prevented plaintiffs from even the possibility of regaining those lost customers in that two-year period.”

In related news, County Counselor Patricia Redington said last week she expected a favorable ruling to come down soon in a class-action lawsuit that alleges charges paid by residents for recycling service violate the Missouri Constitution.

The Missouri Supreme Court on Aug. 29 ordered the case transferred back to the state Court of Appeals.

An appellate court panel in May stated it was inclined to uphold a county circuit court’s decision in March 2010 to dismiss the suit. However, the appellate judges ordered the case be transferred to the state high court “given the general interest and importance of the questions involved.”

“Since the appellate court has already indicated it would issue an opinion in our favor, I anticipate that that would take care of the case …,” Redington told County Council members during a caucus Aug. 30.

Four unincorporated county residents allege the recycling charges they pay their trash hauler as part of the county’s waste management program are “taxes” and are not permitted under the Missouri Constitution’s Hancock Amendment. The amendment requires voter approval before political subdivisions can levy any tax, license or fee.

But the Court of Appeals ruled that because waste haulers, not the county, bill and collect payments from residents, the charges are not taxes.