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Judge Orders St. Louis County To Pay $5.9 Million To Trash Haulers

Flickr | smcg2011

A St. Louis County judge ordered St. Louis County to pay nearly $6 million to three trash haulers who lost contracts after the county established trash districts. 

But St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley’s administration indicated that the county may appeal the judge's order.

The case stems from St. Louis County’s 2008 decision to divide unincorporated St. Louis County into trash-collection districts. Three haulers – American Eagle Waste Industries, Meridian Waste Services and Waste Management of Missouri – sued after they were ousted when they failed to win the initial district contracts. The haulers argued the county violated a state law requiring two years notice that their contract would terminated.

After some legal maneuvering, the Missouri Supreme Court ultimately ruled last July that the county violated a state law requiring written notice to the haulers. The high court then remanded the case to a lower court to determine the damages owed to the companies.

On Tuesday, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Barbara Wallace awarded $4.94 million to Waste Management; $384,000 to Meridian Waste Services and $593,000 to American Eagle Waste Industries. The roughly $5.9 million award exceeds a $1.1 million judgment given to the haulers in 2011.

Jane Dueker – an attorney for the trash haulers – said the award was a better reflection of what the haulers lost from being cut out of their contracts.

“We would have hoped this would have been settled by now,” Dueker said. “And obviously, this ruling of ($5.9 million) more approximates the haulers’ damages than the $1.1 million initially ordered.”

“But, we’re hoping this is the end,” she added.

But the fight may not be over. In a statement, St. Louis County Counselor Patricia Redington said “we do not believe the facts and law support this award and will aggressively pursue our options.”

“We are confident we will prevail under the law and the evidence submitted,” Redington said.

Redington also said in her statement that St. Louis County “has excess insurance to pay the bulk of any judgment we may ultimately pay.”

“We are self-insured for the first $2 million of any judgment and the excess insurance will protect our fund against judgments greater than that amount,” she added.

The trash district issue has long been a dividing line between Dooley and St. Louis Councilman Steve Stenger, who is challenging the county executive in next year’s Democratic primary. The implementation of the trash districts, in fact, wasa major issue in his successful bid in 2008 against then-Councilman John Campisi.

Dooley and his administration have contended the districts provided better service and saved the county money in the long run. In a statement included with Redington’s reaction, St. Louis County Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls said the trash districts “provided for a number of important improvements to the quality of life in the communities the trash districts serve.”

But Stenger said last yearthat the expenses stemming from the lawsuit should “never should have borne by both incorporated and unincorporated St. Louis County.” He also called Dooley’s decision not to take “responsibility” for the situation “atrocious.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.