CONSTITUTIONAL LAW-PENNSYLVANIA CONSTITUTION-ENVIRONMENTAL AMENDMENT

August 22nd, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Constitutional Law

Pa. Envtl. Def. Found. v. Commonwealth, 2022 Pa. LEXIS 1127 (S. Ct. August 5, 2022) (Baer, C.J.) We reiterate that Section 27 imposes fiduciary duties on Commonwealth entities to “conserve and maintain [Pennsylvania’s public natural resources] for the benefit of all the people,” which includes a “duty to prevent and remedy the degradation, diminution, or depletion of our public natural resources.” Pa. Const. art. 1, § 27; PEDF II, 161 A.3d at 932 (quoting Robinson Twp., 83 A.3d at 956-57). PEDF seeks a declaration that Sections 104(P) and 1601 of the General Appropriation Acts of 2017 and 2018 violate the Commonwealth’s trustee duties by using trust resources to pay for the general operations of the DCNR. PEDF specifically contends that revenue from oil and gas leases of State forest and park lands deposited in the Lease Fund should not be appropriated to pay DCNR’s general operations, including inter alia, the “salaries, wages or other compensation and travel expenses” of DCNR officers and employees of the Commonwealth, or for the “purchase or rental of goods and services” or “any other expenses . . . necessary for the proper conduct of the duties, functions and activities.” Section 104(P). PEDF maintains that Section 27 does not authorize the Commonwealth “to sell State Forest assets to generate revenue for the general operating expenses of DCNR,” as such sales would deplete the resource, contrary to the goal of conserving and maintaining Pennsylvania’s natural resources. PEDF additionally argues that these General Appropriations Act provisions violate Section 25 by using Lease Fund monies to replace appropriations from the General Fund. As an explanation for its position, PEDF alleges that the “passage of an annual appropriation act to fund general government operations for the current fiscal year is an Article III responsibility of the Commonwealth and cannot infringe” on the people’s rights under Article I, Section 27, which are “excepted out of the general powers of government and shall forever remain inviolate” under Section 25. PEDF Brief at 28 (quoting PA. Const. art. 1, § 25). It contends that Commonwealth entities cannot violate their obligations as Section 27 trustees in order “to fulfill their constitutional duties under Articles III, IV, or V of the Pennsylvania Constitution to raise revenue to fund general budgetary matters.” As we conclude that PEDF failed to demonstrate that the provisions violate Section 27, we likewise find no violation of Section 25. Accordingly, we affirm the Commonwealth Court’s denial of PEDF’s requested declaration. For the reasons set forth above, we affirm the order of the Commonwealth Court, while rejecting that portion of the court’s analysis derived from its decision in PEDF III, 214 A.3d 748. Justices Todd, Donohue and Mundy join the opinion. Justice Donohue files a concurring opinion in which Justice Todd joins. Justice Mundy files a concurring opinion. Justice Dougherty files a concurring and dissenting opinion. Justice Wecht files a concurring and dissenting opinion. Former Justice Saylor did not participate in the consideration or decision of this matter. Concur by: DONOHUE; MUNDY; DOUGHERTY; WECHT.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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