An attorney for the city’s Solid Waste Disposal Authority (SWDA) said the legal fight between the entity and Waste Management (WM) is not over, despite just losing a second multimillion-dollar judgement to the company in federal court.
Pete Mackey, one of the attorneys tasked with defending the authority, told Lagniappe he assumes the new $2.8 million judgement against SWDA would be appealed. He also said both sides will enter post-trial motions.
WM won a similar breach of contract case against the authority five years ago. The 2015 case resulted in a federal jury awarding WM more than $6 million. WM has withheld the royalties it has historically paid SWDA as payment for the judgement. Those royalties are the only source of revenue for the authority.
This time around, the company claimed the authority did not provide funding for reimbursements for government-mandated improvements required by the contract. A jury this month awarded WM $801,136 for those reimbursements over a three-year period starting in 2016.
Mackey argued the volunteers appointed by the Mobile City Council who make up the authority were willing to pay for the improvements if the company could provide proof the improvements were needed.
“[SWDA Chairman Pete] Riehm asked for a list of the improvements and wanted them to explain it,” Mackey said. “They didn’t come in and give us reasons why something was requested. It puts Pete and the others in a bad position because they’re supposed to be doing the right thing.”
WM attorney Jaime Betbeze said a SWDA consultant was asked in court if the authority made any requests related to the reimbursements after 2016 and the expert witness said “no.”
“This is the same thing they tried to say before and it’s not accurate,” Betbeze said. “We proved it at trial.”
The company also claimed the authority was responsible for the city’s diversion of yard and construction debris away from the publicly owned and WM-managed Chastang Landfill. Attorneys for WM have previously argued the 1993 contract between the city and the entity known at that time as Transamerica doesn’t specify a difference between regular municipal garbage picked up on a weekly basis and the yard and construction debris, known colloquially as “trash,” picked up every other week.
Instead of sending the “trash” to Chastang, the city has an ongoing contract with Gulf Hauling & Construction to send it to another facility. For damages on the diversion, the jury awarded WM $2 million.
Mackey said for almost the entire history of the 1993 contract between the two entities, the city has sent its “trash” to a landfill other than Chastang.
“There has never been yard waste deposited at Chastang except for five weeks in 2016 or 2017,” he said. “I’m going back to 1993. Since the landfill opened, it has never accepted that kind of trash.”
The city had an agreement in place to pay WM to allow for the diversion of the waste stream, but U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose ruled the settlement was illegal, Mackey said.
“There was not anything nefarious on either side that made it illegal,” he said. “It just was.”
Mackey and other members of the SWDA legal team argued WM has voided its claim to the entirety of the city’s waste stream because it diverts some of the garbage it collects to a landfill in Mississippi.
Again, Betbeze refuted this claim, saying the allegation was made “without facts to back it up.”
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