The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHRISTOPHER CONNER, District Judge
Presently before the court is defendants' motion for summary
judgment on the claims of plaintiff John D. Light ("Light"),
brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for monetary damages to
compensate for allegedly unlawful searches and retaliatory
conduct by officials of the Pennsylvania Department of
Environmental Protection ("DEP"), and for a declaration that
several provisions of Pennsylvania's Solid Waste Management Act,
35 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 6018.101-.1003 ("SWMA"), are
unconstitutionally vague. For the reasons that follow, the motion
will be granted in part and denied in part.
I. Statement of Facts*fn1
A former dairy farmer, Light now owns and operates almost 200
apartment units scattered throughout south-central Pennsylvania.
(Doc. 64, Ex. 1 at 1; Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 7, 10-11). He resides on a farm in Lebanon County,
upon which is situated a garage, a barn, several trailers and
mobile homes, various pieces of heavy equipment, and a chicken
coop. (Doc. 64, Ex. 1 at 1, 2; Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 201). Within the
garage and barn Light stores auto parts, tools, building
materials, appliances, and furnishings for his apartments. (Doc.
64, Ex. 4 at 201-04; Doc. 64, Ex. 1 at 1). The trailers contain
various items abandoned by former tenants, as well as old tires
to be reused or sold to consignment shops. (Doc. 64, Ex. 1 at 2;
Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 125, 191, 193). The heavy equipment stored on
Light's property includes trucks, tractors, log skidders, and
farming equipment. (Doc. 64, Ex. 1 at 2). Outside, Light stores
sheet metal, lumber, pipe, window frames, and firewood, as well
as metal drums which he either resells or uses to store gasoline,
oil, and antifreeze for his equipment. (Doc. 64, Ex. 1 at 1-4).
Most of Light's possessions were purchased from consignment sales
or removed from his rental properties, and are intended for
refurbishment and reuse, if possible, in his apartment units.
(Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 9-10, 201-02; Doc. 64, Ex. 1 at 1-2).
Light's property has garnered the attention of local and state
authorities in recent years. In January 1998, officials from DEP
visited Light's farm in response to a citizen complaint, and
requested access to the property for an inspection. (Doc. 64, Ex.
2 at 6-8, 18; Doc. 44, Attach. 2 ¶ 3). Light initially refused,
but acquiesced to the search when the officials said that, if he
persisted, they would obtain a search warrant and then fine Light
for obstructing their investigation. (Doc. 64, Ex. 2 at 8, 13-18; Doc. 44, Attach. 2 ¶ 4). Light was subsequently cited for
unlawfully possessing and storing "waste" on his property. (Doc.
64, Ex. 2 at 8, 20).
Two years later, DEP investigator Robert Belfanti ("Belfanti")
visited Light's farm and informed him that he was in violation of
various regulations. (Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 44-45; Doc. 64, Ex. 3 at
15; Doc. 64, Ex. 9 at 18). Light subsequently received a citation
related to those violations, and was fined $1,000. (Doc. 64, Ex.
4 at 42, 484-9). He appealed the fine to a state court and
succeeded in having it reduced to $300. (Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at
50-51). Belfanti and another DEP official, Anthony Rathfon
("Rathfon"), were present during the state-court proceeding and,
according to Light, were extremely upset at the reduction. (Doc.
64, Ex. 4 at 52-53, 59-60). They purportedly followed Light from
the courthouse back to his farm, entered Light's barn without
permission, and declared the majority of the barn's content
waste, demanding that it be removed. (Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 54-55,
In November 2001 Light's garage caught fire. DEP was contacted
when firefighters at the scene observed metal drums near the
flames. (Doc. 64, Ex. 1 at 45-; Doc. 64, Ex. 2 at 40-42, 60; Doc.
64, Ex. 4 at 74-75). A DEP official arrived at the fire and was
able to confirm that the drums did not pose an immediate risk to
the environment. (Doc. 64, Ex. 2 at 27, 43). However, when
interviewed by a local television news crew, the official
purportedly stated that he had observed violations while on the
property, and that Light was a "packrat" with whom DEP was having
problems. (Doc. 64, Ex. 2 at 23; Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 83). Although
Light declined to provide an interview on camera, he relayed to a
reporter that he was working with DEP and that everything was "okay." (Doc. 64, Ex. 4
at 77-78). The story was later broadcast and, although Light
could be seen speaking with others, the conversation itself could
not be heard. (Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 76-77).
While at the fire, the DEP official was told by an unknown
individual that Light was storing tires and other objects on the
southern parcel of the farm, across the street from Light's
garage. (Doc. 64, Ex. 2 at 32-33, 37-38; Doc. 44, Attach. 2 ¶ 8).
This information was subsequently relayed to Belfanti and
Rathfon. (Doc. 64, Ex. 2 at 27, 43; Doc. 44, Attach. 2 ¶ 9). The
following morning, Light observed Belfanti and another DEP
official on the farm assessing the fire damage. (Doc. 64, Ex. 4
at 85, 212; Doc. 64, Ex. 2 at 37-39; Doc. 44, Attach. 2 ¶ 9).
After looking at the fire-damaged garage, the officials advised
Light that they had received a complaint of tires being stored
across the street, and requested entry onto that part of the
property. (Doc. 64, Ex. 2 at 37-39; Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 91-92,
209-210). Light refused, and pointed to the "no trespassing"
signs posted on his land. (Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 919-2, 107; Doc. 44,
Attach. 5 ¶ 4,7; Doc. 44, Attach. 2 ¶ 10; Doc. 44, Attach. 3 ¶
11). Belfanti purportedly responded by warning Light that, if
they were forced to obtain a search warrant, Light would be fined
$2,000. (Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 96, 105). Light again refused, and the
officials left. (Doc. 64, Ex. 2 at 34). The DEP officials returned several hours later with a search
warrant.*fn2 (Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 108, 115-16). Construction
waste, farming supplies, several thousand stacked tires, and
piles of scrap metal overgrown with brush were found on the
property. (Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 124-128; Doc. 64, Ex. 2 at 46-47).
In a subsequent meeting with Belfanti, Rathfon, and DEP
investigator Stephen Bartos ("Bartos"), Light was allegedly
advised that he would be fined $2,000 under the SWMA for making
them obtain a search warrant and that DEP was going to "get him."
(Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 124-28, 134, 136-37; Doc. 64, Ex. 9 at 18).
Light received a DEP compliance order, purportedly dated two
months prior to his receipt, demanding that he clean up the farm
within ninety days. (Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 136-38, 153). According to
Light, he attempted to negotiate the fine, but was told that
there would be no negotiating, that penalties were going to
increase from that point forward, and that fines could be levied
at $25,000 per day if he did not comply. (Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at
139-40). Defendants aver that they offered to limit the penalty
to $2,000 if Light would sign a consent assessment form. (Doc.
44, Attach. 4 ¶¶ 6-7). However, Light refused to sign the
agreement, and on February 22, 2002, Bartos assessed a penalty of $6,000 upon Light for refusing DEP
officials access to his farm without a warrant. (Doc. 64, Ex. 4
at 163-68; Doc. 44, Attach. 4 ¶ 3, 10).
Light also received a DEP compliance order to clean up the
items that were found on his property. He filed an appeal from
this order with the Environmental Hearing Board ("EHB"). (Doc.
64, Ex. 4 at 118-20, 122; Doc. 44, Attach. 6 ¶ 3). Attorney
Charles B. Haws ("Haws") represented DEP during these enforcement
proceedings. (Doc. 44, Attach. 6 ¶¶ 4, 7-8). Following one
judicial proceeding, Light's counsel purportedly provided Haws
with a draft of the complaint which he intended to file in this
case. After reviewing the draft complaint, Haws allegedly became
very agitated and threatened Light and his counsel with further
"harassment," purportedly telling Light to "just wait and
see."*fn3 (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 51-55; Doc. 64, Ex. 1 at 8; Doc. 64,
Ex. 9 at 189-90). Light alleges that DEP has since renewed its
effort to harass and intimidate him, and that he complies with
DEP directives only to have officials revisit his farm and issue
new directives. (Doc. 64, Ex. 1 at 9; Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 98-99,
The instant action was commenced in April 2003, and an amended
complaint was filed eight months later, naming as defendants
Belfanti, Rathfon, Bartos, Haws, the Secretary of the Department
of Environmental Protection, and the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (See Docs. 1,
21). The amended complaint alleges violations of the state
constitution and the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to
the U.S. Constitution, and seeks monetary damages and a
declaration that provisions of the Solid Waste Management Act are
"Summary judgment serves as a minimal but important hurdle for
litigants to overcome before presenting a claim to a jury."
Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 314 (M.D. Pa.
2004). Faced with such a motion, the adverse party must produce
affirmative evidence, beyond the disputed allegations of the
pleadings, in support of the claim. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Corneal
v. Jackson Township, 313 F. Supp. 2d 457, 464 (M.D. Pa. 2003),
aff'd, 94 Fed. Appx. 76 (3d Cir. 2004). "Such affirmative
evidence regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial
must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in
the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance." Saldana v.
Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting
Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d
Cir. 1989)). Only if this burden is met can the cause of action
proceed. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57
(1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). III. Discussion
Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers
private citizens a means to redress violations of federal law by
state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides, in
pertinent part, as follows:
Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State
or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects,
or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the
United States or other person within the jurisdiction
thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges,
or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws,
shall be liable to the party injured in an action at
law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for
redress. . . .
Id. Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, but
merely a method to vindicate violations of federal law committed
by state actors. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199
, 1204 (3d Cir.
1996). To establish a claim under this section, the plaintiff
must show a deprivation of a "right secured by the Constitution
and the laws of the United States . . . by a person acting under
color of state law." Id. (quoting Mark v. Borough of Hatboro,
51 F.3d 1137
, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995)).
Satisfaction of these elements, however, does not guarantee
recovery. Certain officials, including police officers and other
state actors who perform "discretionary functions," are shielded
from suit if their conduct did not violate a "clearly established
statutory or constitutional right? of which a reasonable person
would have known." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200-01
(2001); Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999). This
doctrine, known as "qualified immunity," provides not only a
defense to liability, but "immunity from suit." Hunter v.
Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991); Mitchell v. Forsyth,
472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). To gain the protection of the doctrine, the defendant must show either
(1) that the plaintiff has not demonstrated "a deprivation of an
actual constitutional ...