The five remaining plaintiffs in a seven-year-old civil lawsuit against the city of Eldon over water billing practices are taking their case to the Western District Court of Appeals.
This week, attorneys Audrey Smollen and Kent Brown filed their appeal on behalf of their clients — Joan and Glen Jungmeyer, Robert Dunstan, Timothy King and Kimberly Tompkins.
In September, Miller County Judge Ralph Jaynes ruled in favor of the city of Eldon after a bench trial in August. He earlier denied a request from the plaintiffs for a jury trial. The plaintiffs asked the judge for an opinion with findings of fact, but Jaynes recused himself. Judge Peggy Richardson was then assigned the case in October, and last month, she denied the request for opinion with findings of fact and a motion to amend Jaynes' judgment.
The lawsuit began in 2011, when a group of 17 Eldon property owners who were upset about rate hikes filed a lawsuit in Miller County Circuit Court. The plaintiffs claimed the city's raising of water and sewer fees violated the Missouri Constitution's Hancock Amendment because the rates and fees were used to generate revenue for Eldon's general fund without a public vote.
The property owners also railed against what they called the "vacant meter" ordinance, which includes leveling separate fees for every household in multi-residential or multi-commercial housing. The ordinance charges owners of multi-unit complexes served by a single meter a minimum fee per unit in addition to the usage rate.
In his September ruling, Jaynes said evidence showed the plaintiffs passing of the costs of the water and sewer charges on to their tenants and there was no credible evidence these ordinances allowing these increases diminished the value of their properties or that they suffered damages. Jaynes also said there was no evidence to show the rates were unreasonable.
In their appeal, Smollen and Brown noted the case had been previously appealed to the Western District, which resulted in a reversal and remand which was affirmed by the Missouri Supreme Court. The issues they plan to raise in their appeal include whether the circuit court erred in refusing their clients' request for a jury trial as well as whether the city violated the Hancock Amendment by raising fees without a vote of the people.