Decision could be made soon in the Fort Smith recycling trial

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

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

The city brought recyclable materials to the landfill from October 2014 to June 2017, although residents were not informed that recyclable materials were not recycled. From October 2014 to June 2016, a portion of the city’s recyclable materials were sent to Green Source Recycling in Clarksville, although during this time 89% of recyclable materials went to landfill.

City attorneys said the case should be dismissed because there is no legal recourse against any allegation that the city misled residents, and there is no legal recourse to redirect the materials to a landfill instead of being recycled.

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

“Given Arkansas’ express public policy favoring recycling (ACA 8-9-101), a municipality is equitable liable when, for an extended period, it deceives its residential customers into believing that their recyclable materials are recycled rather than landfilled, and this false impression is paid for by the fees the municipality charged customers to pay for residential recycling services?”

The attorneys also said the city had clearly “deceived its residents” by redirecting the material without informing them.

“During the 22-month class action period in this case, from July 1, 2015 to May 1, 2017, the city, by its own estimate, transported more than 95% of residential recyclables to a landfill. This happened as the City (i) encouraged its residential customers to continue their recycling efforts, (ii) failed to inform its residents that the overwhelming majority of their recyclables were landfilled, and (iii) used funds collected from residential sewerage services. customers pay for city recycling trucks to collect recyclables from residences and transport the recyclables to a landfill,” according to the wording of the lawsuit.

Talk Business & Politics asked the city to comment on the pending decision. This story will be updated when/if the city responds.