Arkansas Supreme Court rules in favor of Fort Smith in recycling case, overturns Circuit Court judgment

Arkansas Supreme Court building in Little Rock
Arkansas Supreme Court building in Little Rock

FORT SMITH -- The city of Fort Smith can keep the almost $750,000 it collected in recycling fees while recyclables were being dumped in the landfill, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The decision overturned a Sebastian County Circuit Court ruling that ordered the city pay $745,057 in restitution for the fees.

The Supreme Court said Fort Smith used the fee for its intended purpose, and no evidence showed the fee didn't bear a reasonable relationship to the benefits conferred.

"The Fort Smith ordinance set a single fee for the cost of residential collection and disposal of solid waste, recycling, and yard waste. And Fort Smith spent the funds on the collection and disposal of solid waste, recycling, and yard waste," the ruling states.

Sebastian County Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor ruled in August the city misused customer money from the Sanitation Department from July 2015 until May 2017, noting the city purposefully deceived the public about its recycling program.

The city even sent recycling trucks around on trash day to collect the items but took them to the landfill, he said.

Resident Jennifer Merriott filed the lawsuit against the city, seeking to recover money from its recycling program. She contended the city was guilty of illegal exaction and unjust enrichment because the city charged a roughly $13-a-month fee for recycling.

In a court filing June 24, the plaintiffs argued by the city's own estimates over 95% of residential recyclables went to a landfill while the city encouraged residential customers to continue their recycling efforts. The filing said the city didn't inform customers recyclables were being taken to a landfill.

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