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Federal Suit Against Hughes Dismissed

By Staff | Nov 9, 2016

A federal civil action against former Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority Chairman Bill Hughes has been dismissed by United States District Judge Frederick P. Stamp.

Hughes was being sued in federal court by Lackawanna Transport Company.

Stamp’s opinion and order, granting Hughes’ motion to dismiss, was filed Oct. 31 in The United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.

Lackawanna filed its suit under section 1983, a federal statute that states “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, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

“The core issue is whether a public official’s abuse of administrative procedure constitutes a violation of due process. This Court believes it does not,” Stamp’s Oct. 31 opinion stated.

The Judge’s opinion states that Lackawanna alleges that Hughes violated its (Lackawanna’s) due process rights by abusing his official authority “to maliciously intervene in the administrative proceedings before the Commission.”

“Thus, Lackawanna invites this court to expand the concept of substantive due process to include abuse of process claims against public officials. Because recognition of such a claim would constitutionalize wrongful conduct redressable under state tort law, this Court declines the invitation.”

Judge Stamp cited Waybright v. Frederick County, Maryland, that states “The Supreme Court has established a strong presumption that 1983 due process claims (that) overlap state tort law should be rejected.”

Hughes, in his motion to dismiss, had argued that the court lacked jurisdiction and that Lackawanna’s claim is barred under the applicable statue of limitations, the doctrine of waiver, and under West Virginia state law. He also argued that Lackawanna had failed to state a claim that he (Hughes) violated Lackawanna’s due process rights under the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendments.

Stamp noted that dismissal is appropriate because of Lackawanna’s failure to state a claim under 1983. However, Stamp noted that the Court has ruled in favor of Lackawanna on the issues of standing, ripeness, abstention, statute of limitations, waiver, and state law immunity.

The original complaint against Hughes claims he used his position as the authority’s chairman to “intervene, for his own personal reasons, but purportedly on behalf of the Authority, in proceedings before the Public Service Commission of West Virginia” without the authority’s approval.

The case before the PSC dealt with Lackawanna’s application for two dedicated disposal cells at the landfill for Marcellus Shale drilling waste. Lackawanna filed its application on Feb. 21, 2013. On July 13, 2013, the PSC’s staff recommended approval, and on July 22, 2013, Lackawanna filed a response with the PSC concurring with the staff’s memorandum.

Lackawann’as complaint had stated the application should have been routinely approved at that time.

However, on Oct. 13, 2013, “without the authority’s permission and for purposes of furthering his own private political agenda,” Hughes sent a letter to the West Virginia Attorney General’s office stating the solid waste authority needed representation to aid it in determining whether to intervene in the PSC case.

The attorney general’s office approved Hughes’ request, which was limited to giving advice as to “whether to intervene,” not to represent the authority in an intervention.

Between Oct. 13 and Nov. 6, 2013, “and at no time thereafter,” the solid waste authority did not vote to intervene in the proceedings, according to the lawsuit. However, on Nov. 6, 2013, a petition was filed on behalf of the authority to intervene in the case.

The PSC agreed to have the authority intervene in May 2014.

The complaint states that on or about Jan. 9 of this year, Lackawanna learned that the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority had never approved the filing of a petition to intervene with the PSC.