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Light v. Haws

October 5, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


This is a civil rights action filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by plaintiff John D. Light ("Light") against defendant Charles B. Haws ("Haws"), assistant counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP").*fn1 Light also filed suit against other defendants not affected by the present motion. Light alleges that violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments as well as the Pennsylvania Constitution occurred when Haws enforced DEP laws and regulations against him. Presently before the court is Haws' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 37) asserting that prosecutorial immunity applies to his actions, rendering him unsusceptible to suit.

I. Statement of Facts*fn2

This case arises from DEP efforts to enforce provisions of Pennsylvania's Solid Waste Management Act ("SWMA"), 35 PA. CONS. STAT. §§6018.101--.1003, against Light. Light resides on a farm in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, where he stores oil, gasoline, antifreeze, appliances, lumber, and other items he retains for resale and for use in some 190 apartment units he owns. (Doc. 64, Ex. 1 at 1-2, 9-10; Doc. 64, Ex. 4 at 9-10, 201-04.) In 1998, acting on a citizen complaint, DEP instituted enforcement proceedings under the SWMA to compel removal of the sundry items, which, according to DEP, constituted waste. (Doc. 64, Ex. 2 at 6-8, 18; Doc. 44-2 ¶ 3.) DEP issued an order requiring Light to remove the items on November 20, 2001. (Doc. 84 ¶ 4; Doc. 86 ¶ 4.)

A. Prosecution of Light by Haws

Haws, as assistant counsel for DEP, initiated proceedings in February 2002 when he filed papers with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to enforce DEP's order. (Doc. 44-6 ¶¶ 4, 7-8; Doc. 62 ¶ 25; Doc. 84 ¶ 8.) That court issued its own order on April 16, 2002 requiring Light to comply with DEP's mandate. (Doc. 62 ¶ 26; Doc. 86 ¶ 9.) On July 19, 2002, Haws accompanied a DEP inspector to Light's property, where the inspector evaluated Light's compliance with DEP and Commonwealth Court orders. (Doc. 39 ¶ 27-28; Doc. 62 ¶ 27; Doc. 84 ¶ 11; Doc. 86 ¶ 11). The inspector reported that Light remained in violation of the orders, and Haws filed a contempt petition with the Commonwealth Court in early August. (Doc. 85, Ex. B.)

On September 19, 2002, the court held a hearing on the contempt petition.(Doc. 84 ¶ 11; Doc. 86 ¶ 11.) In the courthouse after the hearing, Light's counsel showed Haws a copy of a federal civil rights complaint, which he planned to file later that day. (Doc. 84 ¶ 13; Doc. 86 ¶ 13.) During the ensuing conversation, Haws told Light: "We haven't even begun doing the citations or fines." (Doc. 84 ¶ 13; Doc. 86 ¶ 13 & Ex. 3 at 163, 71.) Light's counsel asked Haws if his statement was a threat, to which Haws replied: "It isn't a threat; it's a promise." (Doc. 84 ¶13; Doc. 86 ¶ 13 & Ex. 3 at 171-72.) Haws also told Light to "[w]ait and see what we do now" (Doc. 86 ¶ 13 & Ex. 1 at 8) and that "[w]hat goes around comes around" (Doc. 86 ¶ 13 & Ex. 8 at 70).

Over the next two years, Haws accompanied DEP inspectors to Light's property on three additional occasions when the inspectors evaluated it for compliance with the Commonwealth Court order. During the same period, he also filed numerous documents with the court pertaining to the state of Light's property.*fn3 Finally, on November 30, 2004, Haws, along with a judge of the Commonwealth Court and Light's counsel, participated in a viewing of Light's property. (Doc. 84 ¶ 30; Doc. 85-2 ¶ 16; Doc. 86 ¶ 30.) Haws filed a certificate with the Commonwealth Court on January 25, 2005 indicating that Light had complied with the orders of DEP and the court. (Doc. 84 ¶ 31 & Ex. A at 10; Doc. 86 ¶ 31.) The case was dismissed later that year. (Doc. 84, Ex. A at 11.)

B. Procedural History

Light filed this action in April 2003 and an amended complaint (Doc. 21) eight months later, naming as defendants Haws and other individuals who participated in DEP enforcement efforts. Haws filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 37) on January 29, 2005, in which he argued he was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity for his actions. This court denied his motion on the basis that his threats against Light on September 19, 2002 occurred outside of his prosecutorial function and were not protected by immunity. (Doc. 69 at 14.) Haws appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which remanded, instructing that the immunity calculus required a more detailed examination of Haws' actions in the record. The Third Circuit stated: "A meticulous analysis of Haws' actions and functions on behalf of the DEP is necessary before a determination can be made whether absolute immunity should attach to any of Light's challenges. . . . Haws is entitled to a determination by the District Court as to which actions are entitled to absolute immunity." Light v. Haws, 472 F.3d 74, 79, 81 (3d Cir. 2007). With these directions in mind, this court now considers whether Haws' various actions receive the benefit of prosecutorial immunity. The parties have fully briefed the issue, which is ripe for decision.

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact," and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). It places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See 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 also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

III. Discussion

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code provides a remedy against those who, under color of state law, deprive others of federally protected rights. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; City of Okla. City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816 (1985). On its face, the statute creates no exceptions to the liability it imposes, nor does it speak of immunity for any individual who might deprive another of civil rights. See Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 267-68 (1993). ...

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