East St. Louis responds to Sieron trash removal class action; Asks federal court to take judicial notice of city's struggles

By Steve Korris | Aug 28, 2013

EAST ST. LOUIS – Judges of a federal court that has run for 103 years in East St. Louis should understand the necessity of trash removal, the city pleads in a class action.

On Aug. 26, the city moved to dismiss a claim that its nuisance citations violate due process and unlawfully benefit its exclusive trash hauler, Waste Management.

“The court itself is a long term resident of the city occupying the same courthouse since 1910 and should be familiar with this history and the conditions in the community and neighborhood surrounding its own courthouse,” John Sabo wrote for the city.

“The city requests the court take judicial notice of this history and the fact that the city is engaged in a long term struggle against the illegal and improper accumulation and dumping of trash and garbage,” he wrote.

He identified Scott Sieron as president of three plaintiff corporations that own nearly 150 parcels in the city.

“The real crux of plaintiffs’ complaint is that the plaintiffs, as absentee landlords, don’t want to pay for trash collection service or be otherwise responsible for the condition of trash on their properties,” Sabo wrote.

“The class action complaint represents an effort to obtain from the city through the intimidation of a class action what they admit they could not achieve by means of negotiation.”

Alvin Paulson of Belleville sued the city and Waste Management Inc., on July 2.

Paulson wrote, “The citations are given indiscriminately and force city residents to come to the city’s municipal building, costing those affected time and money.”

“This practice is a form of harassment and unduly burdens low income individuals and minorities.”

The complaint alleges 17 counts against the city and two against Waste Management, claiming the city acts as debt collector for Waste Management.

Paulson wrote that the city issues citations to those on a list that Waste Management submits. The list includes residents who do not have trash service and Waste Management customers with delinquent bills.

He also wrote that officers without training conducted hearings on citations.

“No Illinois state statute requires a person to have a trash service provider,” Paulson wrote.

He proposed to represent all who received citations for failure to have trash service, estimating their number in hundreds if not thousands.

Sabo answered that Illinois municipalities with home rule powers may adopt their own system of administrative adjudication.

The city’s answer states that appeals may be made pursuant to the Illinois administrative review law or by petition to an Illinois circuit court.

Sabo wrote that trash collection service is mandatory under an ordinance that the complaint didn’t refer to.

He states that plaintiffs failed to establish that the city acts as debt collector and that a citation doesn’t refer to any alleged delinquency in a recipient’s account with Waste Management.

He defended due process, writing that plaintiffs didn’t allege they were subjected to a determination where a hearing officer was the person who issued the citation.

“Instead they allege that this occurs based upon their information and belief indicating that it has not happened to plaintiffs, but they suspect or speculate that it has occurred to others,” Sabo wrote.

“One cannot sue in a federal court to enforce someone else’s legal rights.

“It is also difficult to discern from the allegations in the complaint how the hearing officer was not trained and how that alleged lack of training infringed upon their right of due process.”

Sabo wrote that plaintiffs didn’t attack the validity of the city’s nuisance ordinances.

Residents without trash collection, he wrote, have few options other than to allow it to accumulate in their yards, homes, adjacent properties, nearby alleys, and vacant lots.

“The court need only look to the city’s recent history to recall that this is what happened when there was no trash collection in the city between 1987 and 1992 due to the city’s financial issues,” Sabo wrote.

After Paulson filed Sieron’s suit, he failed to serve it on Waste Management because he named the wrong corporation.

He amended the complaint on Aug. 26, and Waste Management accepted service.

Chief Judge David Herndon set a Sept. 27 deadline for Waste Management’s answer.

While pursuing his own practice in cases like this, Paulson also serves as special assistant to St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly in civil litigation.

Last year the county paid Paulson’s firm $333,240.50.

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