Jury trial set in 2011 on trash-district suit

By EVAN YOUNG

A federal judge has scheduled a jury trial to resolve the lawsuit filed last year against St. Louis County by three waste haulers disputing its trash district program.

American Eagle Waste Industries, Meridian Waste Services and Waste Management of Missouri sued the county in May 2008, claiming it violated state law by failing to issue a two-year notice to waste haulers before establishing eight trash districts in unincorporated areas.

The case will go to trial on Jan. 10, 2011, before U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw, according to an order signed by the judge Oct. 22.

“I’d like to move ahead with this,” Shaw said last week about the case, which arrived in federal court in May after spending a year moving around the county circuit and state appellate courts — and being twice rejected by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Case discovery must be completed by July 30, 2010, according to Shaw’s order.

But County Counselor Patricia Redington told the judge during an Oct. 20 scheduling conference that the deadline may prove too stringent for the county.

Redington said the county would need to depose all three haulers to gather information about their alleged profit losses and what areas of the county they served before the trash districts’ establishment.

“We know nothing about their cases,” she said.

However, plaintiffs’ attorney Jane Dueker said her clients have waited long enough for action on their litigation. She told the court last week that the case wasn’t complex — either the county issued the two-year notice or it didn’t.

“It’s not rocket science,” Dueker said Oct. 20.

In their lawsuit, the haulers cite Missouri statute 260.247, which states, “Any city or political subdivision which annexes an area or enters into or expands solid-waste collection services into an area where the collection of solid waste is presently being provided by one or more private entities, for commercial or residential services, shall notify the private entity or entities of its in-tent to provide solid-waste collection services in the area by certified mail.”

Trash-collection services cannot begin until at least two years after the date of notification, according to the statute.

“The county has not notified by certified mail, either two years in advance or otherwise, those private entities who were collecting waste in the ‘trash-hauling districts’ of its intent to otherwise provide such services,” the haulers’ lawsuit contends.

However, the county counselor has said the statute, which was enacted in 2007, does not apply to St. Louis County because it is a charter county.

“We don’t see collection of trash in St. Louis County as a matter of statewide concern. So the county’s position is that the Constitution says local matters are up to the County Council. And so our ordinances are valid and we want to go forward with this new and better trash-collection service,” Redington told the Call last year.

Circuit Judge Steven Goldman apparently agreed with Redington’s logic; he dismissed the haulers’ lawsuit in June 2008.

But the plaintiffs appealed the decision, first to the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals and then to the state Supreme Court; both courts refused to review the ruling.

The case returned in July 2008 to the Court of Appeals, which in October 2008 reversed and remanded Goldman’s original decision.

In its opinion, the appellate court wrote that statute 260.247 was a “general statute of statewide public policy” and that St. Louis County couldn’t override it.

The county unsuccessfully appealed this decision to the state Supreme Court, and the case went back to the Circuit Court in February.

On May 27, the county moved the case to the U.S. District Court in St. Louis after the haulers amended their petition to include constitutional issues they have with the trash district program.

Since the move to federal court, the county has motioned for the case to be dismissed, while the haulers have filed a motion for partial summary judgment.

Even with a trial date set, Shaw still could grant either motion, Redington and Dueker said last week.

At the scheduling conference, though, the judge seemed eager to put the case through a jury trial.

“Let’s get this show on the road,” Shaw told the attorneys Oct. 20. “As they say: ‘Let’s get the party started’ … I want to get to the trial, so I can be entertained.”