Dismissal of suit challenging trash districts to be appealed

Judge rejects county’s motion to nix first trash-district lawsuit

By EVAN YOUNG

Residents engaged in a legal battle against St. Louis County’s trash district program plan to take their class-action lawsuit to the state appellate court.

A circuit judge last week threw out a lawsuit filed in September by three residents who allege the county’s mandated trash service in unincorporated areas is illegal.

Their suit targeted the county and the three waste haulers it hired last year to serve its eight trash districts exclusively.

County Circuit Judge Robert Cohen granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the suit Jan. 5 without comment, but the plaintiffs in the case are expected to appeal the ruling.

“We’re not down. We’re going to move on and take it to the Missouri Court of Appeals,” said co-plaintiff Cathy Armbruster of Lemay. “We’re going to keep fighting.”

The County Council awarded contracts to Allied Waste, IESI and Veolia Environmental Services last year to serve its trash program, one hauler per trash district.

Residents in those areas must establish service with their authorized trash hauler or face fines and, in some cases, prosecution.

But Armbruster, Paul Marquis of Fenton and Mike Weber of Oakville contend the county violated a state statute by not providing a two-year notice of the impending trash district program to other waste haulers, and its own law by not putting the program to a public vote.

They also argue the trash district law violates the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.

Representing residents and other county property owners, the plaintiffs want Allied, IESI and Veolia to repay all the fees they’ve collected since they began servicing the eight trash districts exclusively last fall.

The plaintiffs also want the county ordinances establishing the districts, and prohibiting unauthorized haulers from providing trash removal within them, declared “illegal and void.”

But county officials have argued that the trash-district program didn’t have to go on the ballot because the County Charter gives them the authority to regulate trash service without a public vote.

In addition, the “two-year notice” Missouri law is not applicable because it was enacted several months after the County Council approved the trash district program, officials have said.

The dismissal of the class-action suit came a few days after a now-retired county judge rejected the county’s motion to dismiss the first lawsuit filed against its trash program.

Unincorporated county residents Brett Buchanan, Greg Porter and hauler American Eagle Waste sued in August 2008, claiming the trash district program should have been put to a vote of the people. Their suit calls for such an election.

Circuit Judge Larry Kendrick took no action on the case for nearly a year and a half, but on Dec. 31 — his last day as a circuit court justice — he denied the county’s motion to dimiss the suit. The case now will proceed in Judge Dale Hood’s courtroom.

“I wasn’t surprised, given that the judge was retiring,” County Counselor Patricia Redington said of Kendrick’s decision. “That just maintains the status quo. You can’t appeal a denial of a dismissal.”

Noting the “right to vote” on the trash district program was among the arguments made against the county in the class-action suit, Redington added, “We’ll probably ask the new judge to take another look at that, especially since Judge Cohen did dismiss the same case.”