Bloomfield man sues waste company over fees

Steve Garrison
A row of trash cans lines West Blanco Street on Thursday in Bloomfield, where waste disposal services are offered by the WCA Waste Corporation.

FARMINGTON — A Bloomfield man has filed a class-action lawsuit in district court alleging that a local waste disposal company charges customers deceptive fees.

David Coponiti claims in the lawsuit that the WCA Waste Corporation regularly bills its customers for a fuel surcharge, also called an energy recovery fee, and an environmental fee. Coponiti argues that both fees are arbitrary and unconnected to either the fuel or environmental costs associated with local waste disposal. Instead, the fees are intended to generate extra profit for the corporation, according to Coponiti, which violates the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act.

The WCA Waste Corporation, headquartered in Houston, provides waste disposal services to the majority of San Juan County, as well as the cities of Aztec and Bloomfield, according to the company's website. The corporation also provides services in southwest Colorado.

The company did not respond to requests for comment, but on its website, the corporation states the energy recovery fee is based on national average diesel fuel cost estimates by the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy.

"The energy recovery fee is not designed nor intended to be specific to the direct costs and expense of servicing an individual customer's account," the website states. "Rather, it is intended to address the overall fuel costs and expenses incurred by WCA and its affiliates and to achieve an operating margin acceptable to WCA."

The website further explains that the environmental fee, expressed as a percentage of total invoice charges, excluding taxes and fees, is intended to address environmental costs and achieve an acceptable operating financial margin.

Copiniti is seeking unspecified damages for violation of the state act and unjust enrichment. The lawsuit was filed June 29 in the Eleventh Judicial District.

Copiniti could not be reached for comment, but he is represented in the lawsuit by Aztec attorney Ryan Lane, and attorneys Oscar Price and Nicholas Armstrong, both of Birmingham, Ala.

Lane said Thursday Copiniti is a former WCA Waste Corporation customer who switched to a competitor because he was upset with the corporation's fees. Lane said he shared Copiniti's frustration, and the two of them contacted Price and Armstrong, who have filed a similar lawsuit in Arkansas challenging WCA Waste Corporation's fees. That lawsuit was removed to federal court on June 27.

"The goal is to have WCA discontinue the practice of generating profit in the name of environmental and fuel surcharge fees, when they aren't (that) at all," Lane said.

Lane said after WCA files a response to Copiniti's complaint, a judge will be asked to rule on whether the lawsuit can continue as a class-action suit. Lane said if the judge rules in their favor, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit will then include all New Mexico residents who have paid fuel or environmental fees to the corporation.

He said the plaintiffs will seek reimbursement of all fees paid to the corporation, as well as civil penalties for fraud.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached 505-564-4644.