Three of four trash-district lawsuits now pending before state high court

Haulers claiming $23 million in damages; May 31 trial set.

By EVAN YOUNG

Three of the four lawsuits filed over St. Louis County’s trash-district program now are pending in some fashion before the Missouri Supreme Court.

The Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals recommended on April 15 that the high court take the case of two residents who’ve sued the county over the establishment of eight trash districts in unincorporated areas without a vote.

The recommendation came two days after the county asked the state Supreme Court to intervene in a lawsuit filed by three waste haulers over the county’s failure to provide a state-required two years’ notice before establishing trash districts.

In addition, oral arguments are scheduled next month before the high court in a third case — class-action litigation by three county residents who claim the trash program is illegal.

A panel of state appellate judges in November upheld most of a county circuit court’s earlier dismissal of that case.

But the judges sent back to trial court the plaintiffs’ claim that the county violated its charter by not letting voters consider the trash-district program.

The plaintiffs successfully appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which has scheduled oral arguments for May 11.

Because the right-to-vote issue is identical in both the class-action suit and that of county residents Brett Buchanan and Greg Porter, the high court also should take the latter case, the appellate court recommended.

“This court believes that there is a question of general interest or importance involved regarding whether an election is required before the county can establish trash collection areas,” the recommendation states. “Therefore, this court respectfully requests that the Missouri Supreme Court, on its own motion, transfer this appeal from this court to the Missouri Supreme Court.”

County officials have contended the charter gives them the authority to set up trash districts without first going to voters.

County Counselor Patricia Redington has cited two sections of the charter — one which states the council can “(c)ollect and dispose of … garbage and refuse, or license and regulate such collection and disposal,” and one that authorizes the council to “(f)urnish or provide within the part of the county outside incorporated cities any service or function of any municipality” — as proof the program didn’t have to go on the ballot.

County circuit Judge Barbara Wallace ruled in September that a vote wasn’t required.

Two days before the appellate court handed down its recommendation, Redington asked the state Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition against Wallace and the three haulers because the circuit court has “exceeded its jurisdiction” in the case, she said.

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.

A May 31 trial tentatively has been set to determine damages, which the haulers claim are more than $23 million.

Plaintiffs in a fourth lawsuit, which claims the fees associated with the county’s mandatory recycling program are actually taxes being levied in violation of state law, are awaiting a decision by the state appellate court.