A federal court in Pennsylvania has dismissed with prejudice a complaint alleging that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP’s) denial of a request for a permit modification damaged plaintiffs’ business opportunities and violated their constitutional rights. Pioneer Aggregates, Inc. v. Pa. DEP, No. 11-325 (M.D. Pa. 9/21/12).
The complaint alleges that the denial was an unconstitutional, arbitrary and capricious abuse of government power, an unconstitutional restraint of interstate commerce, a deprivation of protected rights, and a civil rights violation. It further alleges that it cost plaintiffs millions of dollars in preparatory capital improvements, substantial lost profits, lost business opportunities, attorney’s fees, and other costs. The complaint names the state agency as well as five officials of the Bureau of Mining, a DEP agency. The permit modification would have allowed plaintiffs to use fill material from a bridge project to reclaim a mine in Laflin, Pennsylvania. DEP rejected the application because it could not inspect the fill material’s out-of-state source. While plaintiffs appealed the rejection, another company was allowed to use the same fill material in another mine 70 miles from plaintiffs’ facility.
According to the court, the 11th Amendment’s sovereign immunity doctrine barred the lawsuit against the state agency and the individual defendants in their official capacities. The court found that no constitutional rights had been violated and that the agency’s actions were not significantly damaging to plaintiffs’ business opportunities. The court also noted that DEP had extensive discretion in enforcing the state’s environmental protection laws.