By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Five years of complaints, amended complaints, and seemingly endless hearings, motions and incremental judicial orders later, the epic legal struggle between Waste Management and competitor Ron Bergeron is finally set for a non-jury trial later this year.
Epic not merely because it has been drawn out and expensive, but because the evidence, and perhaps the verdict, should throw more light on the severe and disturbing decline of recycling across Broward, and how more and more of our garbage and recycled items are destined to be dumped in landfills owned by Waste Management.
Such an outcome was strongly disfavored by the Florida Legislature, which in 2008 established a statewide recycling goal of 75 percent by 2020. In Broward, with nearly two million residents, the recycling rate was 34 percent in 2019.
The trial may also help illuminate the murky federal and state anti-trust investigations of Waste Management’s $525-million asset purchase of Davie’s Southern Waste Systems (SWS), including Sun Recycling. Those investigations by the Department of Justice and the Florida Attorney General’s Office gave a green light to the deal, despite concerns that Waste Management was moving to restore a lucrative trash disposal monopoly in Broward that Sun Recycling and Bergeron Environmental had combined to bust just a few years earlier.
Biggest question of Bergeron case
The biggest question: why then-Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office failed in late 2015 to notify Broward’s municipalities that it had secured various commitments from Waste Management that would benefit those local governments in exchange for agreeing not to attempt to block its takeover of SWS. Also: why the AG’s office has continued to stonewall about its failure, and, just as intriguing, why the cities, while upset after to learn of the deal, took no action against Waste Management in response.
In 2018, Florida Bulldog obtained and published a copy of the secret December 2015 letter by Bondi’s anti-trust regulators to Waste Management lawyers. Among the commitments: that cities would be allowed to renew their contracts with Sun Bergeron for another five years in 2018 at the same prices and on the same terms and conditions. Sun Bergeron’s recycling price was then roughly $50 a ton. The new prices after Waste Management got in the driver’s seat: $85 to $105 a ton, depending on where trash was to be recovered was delivered.
Bergeron’s company, Bergeron Environmental and Recycling, sued Waste Management, and others, in Broward Circuit Court in 2016, contending Waste Management misled state and federal anti-trust regulators to win approval of the SWS deal.
Sun Recycling, now known as LGL Recycling, and Bergeron Environmental were partners in Sun Bergeron, the upstart joint venture that in 2013 contracted with 17 municipalities to process their recycled trash, breaking Waste Management’s decades-old monopoly on the county’s solid waste disposal business.
Ron Bergeron’s 50-50 partner was SWS’s principal owner Anthony Lomangino, a former New York trash hauler and Palm Beach resident who Bergeron contends sold him out by secretly negotiating the sale of SWS, and Sun Recycling, to Waste Management behind his back.
Waste Management’s acquisition of SWS changed the recycling equation in Broward. Bergeron contends it was part of a conspiracy to ruin his multi-million dollar recycling business and steal its customers.
For the county, cities and their residents and businesses, the takeover led to sharply higher recycling costs and cutbacks in recycling programs that until July 2018 had contracted with Sun Bergeron. Waste Management owns two in-county residential recycling centers, Reuter Recycling in Pembroke Pines and another location in Deerfield Beach. Much of what was once collected by Sun Bergeron, however, is more cheaply disposed by Waste Management at its Monarch Hill landfill in Pompano Beach and another dump in Okeechobee County.
Only someone as wealthy as Davie resident Bergeron could go toe-to-toe in court for years with the likes of Houston-based Waste Management, with $15.2 billion in revenues in 2020. The legal fees and costs are unknown. But both sides have fielded a total of 32 lawyers, according to court records.
Broward Chief Judge Jack Tuter is overseeing the case, which he will decide. In an order issued Tuesday, he set trial to commence at 9 a.m. on Oct. 11.
Both sides have long declined to comment publicly.
In a previous order early last year, Tuter said the decisive issue in the case is the validity of Waste Management’s acquisition of Lomangino’s Southern Waste Systems.
“The crux of this case centers on the legitimacy of the underlying transaction, the DOJ antitrust review, and voluminous discovery pertaining to that review,” Tuter wrote.