Ruling could come soon in Fort Smith recycling lawsuit

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,461 views 

A ruling could be issued early next week in a lawsuit filed in late 2017 by Jennifer Merriott against the city of Fort Smith alleging the city lied for almost three years to residents about recycling efforts. The city has admitted to redirecting recycling to its landfill.

Whit Hyman, an attorney for Merriott with Fort Smith-based King Law Group, told Talk Business & Politics they are asking for around $825,000 in refunds from the city to residents. Merriott initially asked for a $1.14 million settlement. When the city refused that deal, the suit was heard by Sebastian County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Tabor.

The city took recyclable materials to the landfill from October 2014 to June 2017, though residents were not notified that recyclables were not being recycled. From October 2014 to June 2016 some of the city’s recyclable material was taken to Green Source Recycling in Clarksville, though during that time 89% of the recyclable material was dumped in the landfill.

City attorneys have said the case should be dismissed because there is no legal recourse to any claim that the city was misleading residents, and there is no set legal remedy for redirecting materials to a landfill instead of being recycled.

But in the filing, Merriott’s attorneys questioned the city’s argument.

“Given the express public policy of Arkansas favoring recycling (A.C.A. 8-9-101) is a municipality liable in equity when, for a prolonged period, it misleads its residential customers into believing that their recyclable materials are being recycled rather than landfilled, and this false impression is paid for by the fees that the municipality has charged the customers to pay for residential recycling services?”

The attorneys also said the city clearly “duped its residents” in redirecting the material without letting them know.

“During the 22-month class action period in this case from July 1, 2015 to May 1 of 2017, the city, by its own estimates, hauled over 95 % of the residential recyclables to a landfill. This occurred while the City (i) encouraged their residential customers to continue their recycling efforts, (ii) did not inform their residents that the overwhelming majority of their recyclables were being landfilled, and (iii) using the public funds collected from the residential sanitation customers to pay for city’s recycling trucks to pick up the recyclables from the residences and transport the recyclables to a landfill,” according to language in the lawsuit.

Talk Business & Politics has asked the city for a comment on the pending ruling. This story will be updated when/if the city responds.