Is a Trash Case a Precursor to a Health Care Decision?
Last month, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that a St. Louis man cannot be compelled to purchase trash hauling service after he was able to demonstrate that he is a very diligent recycler and does not generate any trash. The Post-Dispatch had a story about the ruling yesterday. The trash plan for unincorporated St. Louis County was incredibly controversial about three years ago. It, along with ticket scalping, was one of the first major issues we debated and covered closely on this blog.
This is a very interesting ruling. I’m aware this ruling won’t actually establish a precedent for courts hearing lawsuits about the federal health care mandate (they’re in different jurisdictions, etc.), but it is still intriguing to note that one court has decided that the government cannot compel someone to purchase something for the public good.
Prior to the county’s trash plan, the law specified that you had to have trash service, but it was left completely up to the individual or neighborhood to acquire it. So, the man who won the lawsuit was probably technically violating the old ordinance for a long time, but nobody noticed or cared because he didn’t produce trash. Now, the hauler that exclusively covers his area wants his money. Thankfully, the court ruled in favor of the individual and against the county.
I think nuisance laws against allowing trash to accumulate on your property are sufficient legal powers for the county to enforce basic health codes against trash. If this man does not generate any trash, he should not have to pay for trash service. I agree with the appeals court ruling, and I wonder if future judges will think the same way about other goods and services. Replace “man who does not generate any trash” with “healthy 25-year-old person who does not need or want any health care,” and it will be interesting to see how the relevant cases are ultimately decided.