A St. Louis County Circuit Court judge last week set the parameters for damages she ruled are owed three waste haulers that sued the county over its trash-district program.
Judge Barbara Wallace ruled in September the county breached an implied contract with haulers when it neglected to give them two years’ notice — as required by state law — that it was establishing eight trash districts in unincorporated areas.
On Jan. 25, Wallace ruled the three haulers that sued the county in 2008 are entitled to damages.
“The county’s action resulted in a finite loss to plaintiffs of 40,000 customers for the statutory two-year notice period,” she wrote in an opinion. “By enforcing the exclusivity of its trash hauling districts, the county has effectively prevented plaintiffs from even the possibility of regaining those lost customers in that two-year period.”
American Eagle Waste Industries, Meridian Waste Services and Waste Management of Missouri sued the county in May 2008 after they did not win contracts to serve the trash districts exclusively. They are prohibited from offering service to district residents.
The haulers cited Missouri Statute 260.247, which states in part, “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, which was modified by the General Assembly in 2007 to include the county. The County Council approved legislation in December 2006 calling for the future establishment of trash districts. Eight districts were implemented by Oct. 1, 2008.
Contracts were awarded to Allied Waste, IESI and Veolia Environmental Services. Veolia last fall pulled its operations from the St. Louis region and transferred its trash district contracts to Allied.
Wallace ruled last week the two-year notice period for determining damages owed the three haulers began when the trash district contracts became effective in April and June 2008.
In her order, the judge rebutted the county’s core arguments for not providing haulers with two years’ notification by certified mail:
The county has contended the notification requirement doesn’t apply to St. Louis County because it is a charter county. However, Wallace noted she is bound by a previous Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals ruling that states the law is one of “general, statewide applicability which must be followed by the county regardless of its charter status.”
“Further, the two-year certified notice … is mandatory, not directory,” Wallace wrote.
The county has argued the haulers had “actual notice” of the trash district program because they participated in council meetings when the matter was discussed and submitted bids for district contracts.
But Wallace wrote the law “does not state that actual notice is sufficient or that actual notice relieves the city or political subdivision” from the required two years’ certified notification.
“If the Legislature had intended to relieve governmental entities, like the county, of their obligation to provide two years’ notice under these circumstances, it could have incorporated such a provision …,” the judge wrote.
Of Wallace’s decision, County Counselor Patricia Redington told the Call, “Well, it’s pretty consistent with what she has ruled in the past. (She) kind of reiterated her position. We were disappointed with the ruling.”
She added that the St. Louis County Municipal League asked the judge to change her position, to no avail. Attorney Kevin O’Keefe, who represents several area municipalities, told Wallace at a hearing in December that if she ordered the county to pay the haulers damages, it could “promote litigation” against governments across Missouri.
“We’ll go forward,’ Redington said, noting a trial to determine the amount of damages owed the haulers has been moved from Feb. 24 to May 31.
Asked if there was any estimate of damages, Redington said, “We haven’t gotten any evidence from them at this point. There’s nothing in the record, either as to how many clients they had or customers they had or what their revenue was. So you would have to ask them that. We have not been given any information.” The county counselor also took issue with Wallace agreeing the haulers lost 40,000 customers to the trash districts.
“I don’t know where it came from,” Redington said, “because we haven’t had any hearings or any evidence at this point.”
Call Executive Editor Mike Anthony contributed to this report.