County to pay $5.8 million to settle lawsuit over trash districts

Appellate court hands down decision this week

Steve Stenger

Steve Stenger

By Gloria Lloyd

On the heels of an appellate court decision that upheld a $5.9 million judgment against the county Tuesday, the county has settled a long-running lawsuit from three trash haulers who contend county officials did not follow state law when they established trash districts in 2008.

The county settled the case for $5.8 million, less than the $5.9 million that St. Louis County Circuit Judge Barbara Wallace decided the county owed to the trash companies in December 2013. That judgment was accruing daily interest at an annual rate of 9 percent.

“The dispute began in 2008 and has consumed a great deal of county resources over a number of years,” County Executive Steve Stenger said in a statement. “The matter has been resolved by my administration under terms more favorable than anticipated.”

Although the settlement was brokered by Stenger, he said the trash-hauling lawsuit was an “artifact of the previous administration” of former County Executive Charlie Dooley, who set up the trash districts in unincorporated areas of the county.

Until they left their jobs in December after Stenger defeated Dooley, former county Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls, former County Counselor Pat Redington and Dooley insisted that the county rightfully owed nothing to the trash haulers whose business was displaced by the county’s eight trash districts. Under the trash districts, trash service is awarded to a single hauler per district rather than allowing residents to choose their own trash hauler, as under the previous system.

Redington made the decision not to send two years’ notice to trash haulers Waste Management of Missouri, Meridian Waste Services and American Eagle Waste Industries as required under state law. After the companies did not receive winning bids to service the new trash districts, they joined together for the lawsuit. Wallace initially granted the haulers $1.1 million in damages when she first ruled in their favor in 2010. The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed Wallace’s ruling, but remanded the decision on damages back down to her.

In the beginning, the trash companies asked for more than $23 million, which they said were their actual damages from the trash districts.

The last oral arguments in the case were in December, where Redington argued for the final time that the companies had miscalculated their business losses and damages in the case, but the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals again sided with the companies over the county.

After Wallace’s December 2013 ruling, Dooley continued to tell the Call that the county shouldn’t owe anything to the companies and would appeal the merits of the case. But the appeals court said the trash haulers’ case and their argument for a $5.9 million judgement was “supported by substantial evidence,” according to the ruling.

Stenger was elected to the 6th District County Council seat in 2008, defeating incumbent John Campisi, R-south county.

The County Council initially voted unanimously in December 2006 to implement trash districts in unincorporated areas as part of an amendment to the county’s solid-waste management code.

Campisi later contended that he was misled by that plan’s organizer — former 3rd District Republican Councilman Skip Mange — and that Mange had told him that trash districts were not included in the bill.