Trash suit remanded to county circuit court

Suit contends county failed to provide notice to haulers.

By EVAN YOUNG

A lawsuit against St. Louis County over its trash district program that was scheduled for a jury trial next January will return to county circuit court, a federal judge ordered last week.

U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw on March 18 dismissed two of the five claims against the county in a 2008 lawsuit filed by American Eagle Waste Industries, Meridian Waste Services and Waste Management of Missouri.

They allege the county violated state law by failing to issue a two-year notice to waste haulers before establishing eight trash districts in unincorporated areas and awarding contracts for trash pickup.

The two dismissed claims — violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the taking of private property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment — were added to the haulers’ petition last April and led the county to move the case to U.S. District Court from St. Louis County circuit court.

Shaw last week also sent the haulers’ remaining three claims, which pertain to the alleged violation of state law, back to circuit court. The judge previously had scheduled the case for a jury trial in federal court on Jan. 10, 2011.

“We’re happy that the two federal claims are gone,” County Counselor Patricia Redington told the Call Friday. “Due process is kind of amorphous. It’s kind of a catch-all. So to have the judge say there’s nothing there that would even come under due process, I’m pleased about that.

“But we still have other counts remaining,” she added. “So we’ll just keep on with the lawsuit at this point.”

The haulers’ attorney, Jane Dueker, was unavailable for comment before press time.

The county awarded contracts in 2008 to Allied Waste Services, IESI and Veolia to serve its eight districts exclusively, one hauler per district. Residents in those areas must establish service with their authorized trash hauler or face fines and, in some cases, prosecution.

In their suit, the three companies 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 intent 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, Redington has said the state statute, which was enacted in 2007, does not apply to St. Louis County because it is a charter county.

Circuit Judge Steven Goldman 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 reversed and remanded Goldman’s original decision in October 2008.