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PA Landfill Developer’s Claims Fail to Impress

(CN) - A federal judge refused to hear claims that a Pennsylvanian town council secretly conspired with state environmental officials to halt the building of a massive demolition landfill.

Blythe Township and developer FKV LLC sued seven members of the St. Clair Borough Council earlier this year after trying to open and operate the Blythe Township Recycling and Demolition Site (BRADS).

The plaintiffs allege that the state Department of Environmental Protection initially approved an environmental assessment permit for their development of the landfill, but that they kept this approval quiet while holding secret meetings with a federally elected official, and then reversed permit approval.

In a July 2012 press release, however, the department announced that it had issued Blythe a permit for the 109-acre lined landfill that it said would have a 1,500-ton daily volume limit and include leachate collection and treatment and gas-management systems.

That statement said the township had finally met all regulatory and financial obligations to operate the construction- and demolition-waste site over eight years after applying for a permit.

Blythe's application underwent both an environmental assessment, or "harms-benefits analysis," and a technical review, and a 2006 public hearing, the department said.

In their complaint, however, Blythe and FKV complain of a secret conspiracy between the state and town officials to reverse the approval and create a hostile meeting place for public comments pertaining to the permit.

The permit's alleged ultimate reversal led the plaintiffs to appeal to the Commonwealth's Environmental Hearing Board, the complaint states.

The 32-count complaint asserts claims for 14th Amendment due process deprivations and state law claims for tortious interference with contract and prospective contract.

In a third-party complaint this past March, the defendants alleged that several unknown Environmental Protection representatives, in their individual capacity, conspired to violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge James Munley refused to dismiss the third-party complaint on Oct. 10, finding that sovereign immunity does not shield the state officials.

"The allegations establish that the council defendants and Commonwealth defendants acted with a common purpose to deprive plaintiffs of their due process rights," the judge wrote.

Last week, Munley dismissed the civil rights complaint as unripe. After hearing four days of testimony in September, Environmental Hearing Board Judge Bernard Labuskes Jr. has merely ordered the parties to file post-hearing briefs, he noted.

"Here, Judge Labuskes has not made a ruling on the underlying board appeal," Munley wrote. "Judge Labuskes may deny the council defendants' appeal and approve plaintiffs' BRADS permit. Such a result would render moot plaintiffs' due process claims. Thus, the fitness of the legal issues weighs in favor of finding the matter not ripe."

Withholding consideration will not cause undue hardship to the parties, the ruling states.

"First, the court's dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint does not create a direct and immediate dilemma for the parties because the matter is currently pending before the Environmental Hearing Board," Munley wrote. "Second, plaintiffs maintain the right to bring a subsequent civil rights action in the event their BRADS permit is disapproved. Thus, an examination of both factors indicates that the instant matter is not ripe."

The court deferred ruling on the state-law claims at this time.

"Where litigation is in its early stages and the complaint asserts federal question jurisdiction, the district court has 'a powerful reason not to continue to exercise [supplemental] jurisdiction' when the federal cause(s) of action in the case are dismissed," Munley wrote [brackets in original].

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