Waste lawsuit gets trashed

Missouri’s court of appeals this week upheld Jefferson City government’s contract with Allied Waste Services for its trash, garbage and recycling programs, and the requirement that city residents contract only with Allied Waste for those services.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court’s Western District in Kansas City upheld Cole County Presiding Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce’s ruling last year, granting the city’s motion for “summary judgment” in the case — a legal ruling that means the court found no dispute about the facts in a case and that one party was entitled to the judgment as a matter of law.

“We are, obviously, pleased with the ruling,” City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus said Wednesday evening. “We feel vindicated.”

The judges explained in a footnote that their 16-page decision was not a formal court opinion. Instead, it is an “informal, unpublished memorandum provided to the parties to explain the rationale for the order affirming judgment. ... It shall not be reported, cited, or used in unrelated cases before this court or any other court.”

Nickolaus provided the News Tribune with a copy of the memorandum.

Joyce ruled last year against city resident George Massengale, who sued the city government and Allied Waste in September 2010 over their April 2009 contract.

As noted in the judges’ order, the contract provisions included giving Allied Waste “the exclusive right to provide solid waste collection, transportation, and disposal services within the city;” a city ordinance mandating “all single family residences, duplexes, triplexes, and apartments to provide for trash service using Allied,” which agreed to “supply dwellings with a minimum of 65-gallon carts for recyclables and solid waste” with once-a-week collections as well as operating “a public trash and recycling drop off station.”

Massengale complained the city’s contract violated the Hancock Amendment to the state Constitution, because the city’s “ordinances levied or increased a tax without voter approval,” but the appeals court determined the charges are a “fee” for the service — a point the city has argued from the beginning — and not a tax.

Massengale argued the contract violated the state’s antitrust law, but the appeals court cited a July 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that “the Missouri legislature affirmatively (gave) cities and counties the express authority to regulate waste management” — so a contract for those services is exempt from antitrust laws.

Massengale had asked Joyce for a ruling declaring that city residents didn’t have to contract with Allied Waste or pay the mandatory trash fee.

In their unofficial memorandum, the appeals judges wrote: “The trial court found that Mr. Massengale ... failed to offer any substantive legal theory entitling him to relief. We agree.

“While Mr. Massengale may disagree with the City’s actions, that is not a legal theory entitling him to relief in a court of law. If an ordinance is within the scope of a municipality’s delegated police power, we do not substitute our judgment for that of the enacting body.”

Massengale could appeal to the Supreme Court.

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