County wants state high court to intervene in trash-district suit

Haulers claiming damages total more than $23 million.

By EVAN YOUNG

St. Louis County is asking the state high court to intervene in a lawsuit filed by three waste haulers who claim the county owes them $23.2 million in damages.

County Counselor Patricia Redington last week petitioned the Missouri Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition against the county circuit court of Judge Barbara Wallace and the three haulers suing over the county’s trash-district program.

The move comes ahead of a May 31 trial to determine damages owed the haulers, who filed suit nearly three years ago over the county’s failure to provide two years’ written notification it was establishing eight trash districts in unincorporated areas, as required by state law.

Redington told the Call the county believes the circuit court has “exceeded its jurisdiction.”

“We’re saying this case should be dismissed and we would like the (state) Supreme Court to take that up now rather than make us wait and go through an appeal,” she said.

American Eagle Waste Industries, Meridian Waste Services and Waste Management of Missouri sued the county in May 2008 after they did not win three-year contracts to serve the trash districts exclusively. They and other non-contracted haulers are prohibited from offering service to district residents.

Wallace last September ruled that the county breached an implied contract with the haulers when it neglected to give them two years’ notice. She ruled in February that the haulers were owed damages based on two years’ revenue and the “finite loss” of 40,000 customers.

While the plaintiffs have contended those damages could be millions of dollars, Redington has disputed the claim because no one has said as much under oath in court.

During a discussion on the issue at a County Council meeting last October, Redington said, “(A)ll this talk about millions of dollars, no one’s so sure that they’re willing to sign their name to it under oath. So I think before you throw these numbers around, a responsible person would have some idea of the truthfulness of the statement.”

However, county officials recently stated in a notice of a bond sale that the haulers “have asserted damages in the amount of $23,202,384.”

“The county maintains that the plaintiffs are not entitled to damages because the plaintiffs do not have a cause of action and the county has sovereign immunity,” according to the notice, which relates to the sale of roughly $10.5 million in special obligation bonds scheduled for this week. “The county intends to appeal any final judgment of liability.”

Redington said last week that the disclosure is standard practice.

“You have to advise your potential purchasers of any relevant information that they can assess on their own the likely risk and performance of the bonds,” she said. “So when you have plaintiffs claiming that they’re entitled to $20 million, you put that out there so that everyone will know about it.”

It doesn’t mean, she added, the county agrees with the haulers’ assertion.

“There’s no judgment for $23 million,” Redington said. “We’re just saying they’ve asked for it.”

In related news, Allied Waste is the apparent low bidder for the next round of contracts in at least four of the eight trash districts.

Bids were opened last week for five-year contracts in the odd-numbered trash districts. Officials will open bids for the even-numbered districts Tuesday, April 26.

Allied, IESI and Veolia Environmental Services won the first round of trash-district contracts in 2008. However, Veolia moved its operations out of St. Louis last October and transferred its trash-district contracts to Allied, which now exclusively serves five of the eight districts.

The current three-year contracts expire this fall, and the council voted recently to extend the duration of the next agreements to five years.

Allied, IESI, Meridian Waste Services and Waste Management of Missouri submitted bids for all four odd-numbered trash-district contracts. Christian Environmental Services bid on contracts for trash districts three and five.

IESI serves the first trash district in north county, and now charges $13.14 a month for basic service. However, Allied submitted the apparent low bid of $10.10 a month for the first year of basic service, beginning in October, and $11.15 a month for the fifth year.

In the third trash district, which encompasses an area of north-central county, Allied now charges $12.31 a month for basic service. It submitted the apparent low bid of $9.35 a month for the first year, increasing to $10.32 a month for the fifth year.

Allied now charges $13.29 a month for basic service in the fifth trash district, located generally in Affton. It had the apparent low bid of $10.05 a month for the first year, increasing to $11.09 a month for the fifth year.

Households in the seventh trash district, which includes Concord and part of Oakville, now pay $13.28 a month for basic services under Allied. The hauler submitted the apparent low bid of $10.73 a month for the first year, increasing to $11.84 a month for the fifth year.

Council Chairman Steve Stenger, D-south county, who opposed lengthening the trash-district contracts to five years, told the Call he’s pleased with the re-bidding so far.

“In the districts that affect (south county) which is five and seven, we have about a $2 decrease in year one from the current year three,” Stenger said. “And that difference remains pretty much throughout the entire five years that were bid on … They look to be considerably lower.”