State Supreme Court to hear trash-district program lawsuit

Suit seeking return of fees paid to haulers.

By EVAN YOUNG

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit related to St. Louis County’s trash-district program.

The Missouri Supreme Court on March 1 sustained the appeal of three residents who sued the county and three waste haulers over the establishment of eight trash districts in unincorporated areas.

Plaintiffs Cathy Armbruster of Lemay, Paul Marquis of Fenton and Mike Weber of Oakville sued the county and Allied Waste, IESI and Veolia Environmental Services in 2009. The county contracted with the three haulers in 2008 to serve the trash districts exclusively.

In their class-action suit, the plaintiffs contend the county violated a state statute by not providing two years’ written notice of its forthcoming trash district program to other waste haulers, and its own charter by not putting the program to a vote. Representing residents and other county property owners, the plaintiffs want Allied, IESI and Veolia to repay all the fees they’ve collected since the program began. The plaintiffs also want the ordinances establishing the districts, and prohibiting unauthorized haulers from providing trash removal within them, declared “illegal and void.”

While Veolia last October pulled its operations out of the St. Louis area and transferred its trash-district contracts to Allied, it still is listed as a defendant in the suit.

Armbruster told the Call she and her co-plaintiffs seek “return of moneys paid to the illegal, monopoly trash haulers.”

“We are seeking return of the money that has been taken from us by the threat of prosecution by the county,” Armbruster said, referring to the county’s mandate that all trash-district households set up service with their designated waste hauler. “All we want is to have our right of self-determination and our right to choose (a hauler). We want our locally owned trash companies back and to keep the money here.”

A state appellate court panel in November upheld most of a county circuit court’s earlier dismissal of the case. But the judges sent back to trial court the issue of whether the county violated its charter by not letting voters consider the trash-district program.

Of the four lawsuits filed in connection with the county’s trash program, this is the first case which the state Supreme Court has agreed to consider. The high court twice declined to hear a lawsuit brought against the county by three waste haulers alleging they did not receive a state-mandated two years’ notification before the county established the trash districts.

Attorneys on both sides of the case said last week they are pleased with the state high court’s decision to consider it.

County Counselor Patricia Redington said, “We welcome the opportunity to present our case before the Missouri Supreme Court.”

“It’s exciting,” said Lester Stuckmeyer, attorney for Citizens in Opposition to Monopoly Trash Districts. “We’re glad the court has decided to take a look at it, and we’re hopeful that it will restore all the causes of action and allow us to move forward. Of course, that remains to be seen, but I think it’s very interesting that they decided to get involved with it.”