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Commonwealth v. Parker White Metal Co.

Citation: 17 ELR 20352
No. No. 58, 515 A.2d 1358/25 ERC 1173/(Pa., 10/09/1986)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court holds that two enforcement provisions of the state Solid Waste Management Act allowing for different penalties for the same violations do not violate equal protection or due process under either the United States or Pennsylvania Constitutions. The court first rules that the enactment of §§ 606(a) and (b), both dealing with any violation of the Act but one addressing summary offenses and the other with misdemeanors, do not violate equal protection under either constitution merely because a prosecutor might selectively choose one section over the other for improper reasons. The provisions do not create any classifications on their face, since they apply equally and across the board to any potential violators of the Act, and the mere possibility of discrimination in enforcement does not violate equal protection. Even if the Act created classifications of defendants faced with disparate treatment for the same offenses, equal protection would not be violated, the court holds, since such a classification would not affect a suspect class or implicate a fundamental or important interest. The legislature's determinations when it enacted the Act that a flexible enforcement program was necessary to implement the Pennsylvania environmental constitutional provision and to prevent harm to the public from improper hazardous waste disposal are legitimate purposes that satisfy the rational basis test of equal protection.

The court holds that the Act does not grant excessive prosecutorial discretion in violation of due process and is not void for vagueness. Sections 606(a) and (b) unambiguously specify the prohibited activity and the penalties that may be imposed upon conviction. The fact that a given course of conduct may violate both sections does not negate the sufficiency of the notice provided. Moreover, despite the discretion granted to the prosecutor in choosing which section to use, conviction and punishment are not automatic. The prosecuting agency must prove its case to the judge or jury, and sentencing is imposed by a different authority. The court next holds that the provisions are not an improper delegation of legislative power under the Pennsylvania Constitution. The legislature has not delegated any of its authority to define what constitutes a crime or to set criminal penalties, since the Act clearly establishes what constitutes a crime and delineates the range of available penalties. That the legislature has allowed the prosecutor some discretion in choosing penalties does not in itself constitute a delegation of power. The court declines to rule on defendants' motions concerning the authority of a multi-county investigating grand jury whose mission included an investigation into alleged illegal hazardous waste dumping and the constitutionality of the Act for imposing criminal liability without an intent element, remanding these issues to the lower court.

A dissent would hold that the two provisions create classifications of conduct and unequally impose burdens for violations of that conduct, and that the classifications are arbitrary since no even-handed application of the law by prosecutors or the courts can be assured.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Keith Welks, Chief Deputy Attorney General
Strawberry Square, 16th Fl., Harrisburg PA 17120
(717) 787-3391

Counsel for Defendant
JohnWolford
MacDonald, Illig, Jones & Britton
600 First Nat'l Bk. Bldg., Erie PA 16501-1365
(814) 453-7611

Before NIX, C.J., and LARSEN, FLAHERTY, McDERMOTT, HUTCHINSON, ZAPPALA, and PAPADAKOS, JJ.

FLAHERTY and McDERMOTT, JJ., join this opinion.

HUTCHINSON, J., joins this opinion except for that portion of the opinion discussing an intermediate equal protection standard of review, and he also files a concurring opinion.

ZAPPALA, J., concurs in the result.

PAPADAKOS, J., files a dissenting opinion, joined by NIX, C.J.