IEC Wins Victory in Missouri Supreme Court in Coal Ash Landfill Case

Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic (IEC) students and faculty are celebrating another victory, this time in the Supreme Court of Missouri, involving an effort to block a proposed coal ash landfill. Missouri’s highest court issued a unanimous decision in favor of the IEC’s clients—the Labadie Environmental Organization and 11 individuals who live near Ameren’s Labadie power plant.

The case, Ruth Campbell et al. v. County Commission of Franklin County and Union Electric Company d/b/a Ameren Missouri, challenges Franklin County’s 2011 adoption of zoning amendments. The IEC’s clients oppose the measure, which would facilitate Ameren creating a coal ash landfill next to the Labadie plant. The environmental organization and residents are primarily concerned about the proposed landfill’s location in the Missouri River flood plain and about possible groundwater contamination.

“In representing the plaintiffs, the IEC successfully argued that Franklin County failed to hold a valid public hearing before amending its zoning regulations to allow Ameren’s proposed landfill,” explains Maxine Lipeles, senior lecturer in law and IEC co-director. “Although Ameren initially drafted the zoning change and asked Franklin County to adopt it – and even though Ameren’s proposed landfill was the only one that qualified for approval under that zoning change, county officials told the hundreds of people attending the public hearing that they could not discuss the landfill proposal.”

Current IEC team members include third-year law students Zachary Miller, Jessica Kraft-Klehm, and Christopher Moran and second-year law student Gwenn Barney, as well as undergraduate student Courtenay Willcox.

Miller says his work with the IEC, and specifically on the Missouri Supreme Court case, has been an invaluable experience. “It has by far been the best practical training I’ve received in law school,” he observes. “I got to write and edit our briefs before the court, including successfully opposing a motion to dismiss the case. Participating in the landfill case also gave me my first taste of victory!”

The IEC has been representing the same clients for nearly four years, as the case has worked its way through the courts. The Circuit Court initially ruled in 2012 that the claim of an invalid hearing was legally insufficient. The Court of Appeals then reversed that ruling in a 2-1 decision in July 2014, and transferred the case to the Missouri Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s February 3, 2015 decision reinstates the hearing claim and sends the case back to the Circuit Court.

Additionally, teams of clinic students have been working on related legal issues since 2009, when Ameren first announced its landfill plans. At that point, the Labadie Environmental Organization was formed with the help of the law school’s Entrepreneurship & Intellectual Property Clinic. The caseload has since expanded to involve four active litigation matters.

“In representing our clients, our students have developed professional skills and participated in many different types of advocacy and strategic decision-making,” Lipeles says. “We are pleased that the students’ perseverance and talented advocacy skills on behalf of our clients have resulted in yet another victory through this favorable Supreme Court ruling.”

[view decision here]

Judy Uelk, Spring 2015