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Rosenfeld reports: "A Pennsylvania judge in the heart of the Keystone State's fracking belt has issued a forceful and precedent-setting decision holding that there is no corporate right to privacy under that state's constitution."

Wake County resident Marvin Woll joins others to protest fracking on June 27 in Raleigh, N.C. Dimock Township Penn., a small town where residents claimed fracking poisoned their well water in 2009, brought national attention to the process with a lawsuit against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.  (photo: Robert Willett/AP)
Wake County resident Marvin Woll joins others to protest fracking on June 27 in Raleigh, N.C. Dimock Township Penn., a small town where residents claimed fracking poisoned their well water in 2009, brought national attention to the process with a lawsuit against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. (photo: Robert Willett/AP)


PA Court Deals Blow to Fracking Industry and Corporate 'Privacy Rights'

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

17 April 13

 

"In the absence of state law, business entities are nothing."

Pennsylvania judge in the heart of the Keystone State's fracking belt has issued a forceful and precedent-setting decision holding that there is no corporate right to privacy under that state's constitution, giving citizens and journalists a powerful tool to understand the health and environmental impacts of natural gas drilling in their communities.

"Whether a right of privacy for businesses exists within the prenumbral rights of Pennsylvania's constitution is a matter of first impression," wrote Washington County Court of Common Pleas Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca late last month. "It does not."

Judge O'Dell Seneca's ruling comes in an ongoing case where several newspapers sued to unseal a confidential settlement where major fracking corporations paid $750,000 to a family that claimed the gas drilling had contaminated their water and harmed their health. The Court ordered that settlement unsealed, enabling the papers, environmentalists and community rights advocates to examine the health issues and causes.

"The ruling represents the first crack in the judicial armor that has been so meticulously welded together by major corporations," said Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has helped 150 communities in eight states adopt Community Bill of Rights to limit corporate powers. "It affirms what many communities already know, that change only occurs when people begin to openly question and challenge legal doctrines that have been treated as sacred by most lawyers and judges."

The Court's ruling is significant because the fracking companies have relied on secrecy agreements with landowners to hide the environmental and health impacts of gas drilling. Corporate lawyers even filed briefs in this case claiming that environmental and public health groups such as Earthjustice, Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility and others were barred from submitting 'friend of the court' briefs, which they recanted in a hearing, the ruling noted, "because no such rule of exclusion exists."

But where the ruling is likely to make the biggest waves is in the so-called corporate personhood debate. The Judge spent more than a third of her 32-page decision saying why corporations and business entities were not the same as people under Pennsylvania's constitution, and why, for the purposes of doing business in the state, that federal court rulings that blur the rights of people and businesses do not apply.

"This court ruling is a significant development for the growing movement to restore democracy to the people," said John Bonifaz, the co-founder and executive director of Free Speech For People, a national campaign launched on the day of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC. "The ruling is the newest example of dissent within the judiciary to the fabricated doctrine of corporate constitutional rights. It will be held up for years to come as a powerful defense of the promise of American self-government: of, by, and for the people."

Judge O'Dell Seneca cited the text of the 1776 Pennsylvania constitution, the history of its various provisions, related recent case law from other states and policy considerations, and rejected the various claims by corporate lawyers that "made no attempt to parse those texts and construe them in light of the full document." The Court wrote, "Nothing in that jurisprudence indicates that that right [of privacy] is available to business entities."

"There are no men or woman defendants in the instant case; they are various business entities," it wrote, saying business entities are created by the state and subject to laws, unlike people with natural rights. "In the absence of state law, business entities are nothing." If businesses had natural rights like people, "the chattel would become the co-equal to its owners, the servant on par with its masters, the agent the peer of its principles, and the legal fabrication superior to the law that created and sustains it."

The judge said the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment "use of the word 'person' that makes its protections applicable to business entities" does not apply to Pennsylvania's constitution. "The exact opposite is derived from plan language of Article X of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

"Not only did our framers know how to employ the names of business entities when and where they wanted them… they used those words to subjugate business entities to the constitution," the Court held. "The framers permitted the Commonwealth to revoke, amend, and repeal '[a]ll charters of private corporations' and any 'powers, duties or liabilities' of corpoeations… If the framers had intended this section [Article 1, Section 8] to shield corporations, limited-liability corporations, or partnerships, the Court presumes that they could and would have used those words. The plain meaning of 'people' is the living, breathing humans in this Commonwealth."

The Court held that businesses do have legal rights protecting them from unreasonable searches and siezure of property, but that's not the same as a right to personal privacy. "Our Commonwealth's case law has not established a constitutional right of privacy to shield them from out laws."

And looking at case law and rulings from other states, it held, "This Court found no case establishing a constitutional right of privacy for businesses, and it uncovered only one case that allowed a corporation to assert a state-based right to be free from unreasonable searches and siezures in a criminal matter."

Summing up, the Court said "it is axiomatic that corporations, companies, and partnerships have 'no spiritual nature,' 'feelings,' 'intellect,' 'beliefs,' 'thoughts,' 'emotions,' or 'sensations,' because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists… They cannot be 'let alone' by government, because businesses are like grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tendm prune and their pleasure and need."

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund's Linzey said that this ruling will affect other anti-fracking litigation in state court, but more importantly is a landmark in the ongoing community rights movement to elevate public values over private profits.

"It is that disobedience, of entire communities sitting at lunch counters demanding to be served, that is our only hope of salvation in a world increasingly commandeered by a small handful of corporate decisionmakers intent on remaking the world as their own," he said. "A revolution that subordinates the powers and rights of corporations to the rights of people and nature now waits in the wings."

"Judge O'Dell Seneca is on the right side of history," said Bonifaz. "She has clearly articulated what millions of people across this country understand: that people, not corporations, shall govern in America. Judge O'Dell Seneca's ruling provides further legal support for the national movement for a constitutional amendment to reclaim our democracy and to make clear that corporations are not people with constitutional rights."

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+26 # jmar 2013-04-17 09:41
Hooray! At last!
 
 
+12 # Trueblue Democrat 2013-04-17 14:07
"precedent-sett ing decision holding that there is no corporate right to privacy"

For too long it has been held that WE have no right to protest CORPORATE infringement of OUR privacy.

For example, look at the "privacy" statements you get from banks and credit card companies, listing the ways they can and do use your personal information. Then check to see how many of those you can opt out of. Very few.

Yes, indeed. Hurray for Judge Seneca.
 
 
+25 # jwb110 2013-04-17 09:46
I lived in PA for about ten years. That this sort of court decision has been made in what is a fairly backward state gives me hope that the winds are changing.
 
 
+23 # HowardMH 2013-04-17 10:14
"It is that disobedience, of entire communities sitting at lunch counters demanding to be served, that is our only hope of salvation in a world increasingly commandeered by a small handful of corporate decisionmakers intent on remaking the world as their own," he said. "A revolution that subordinates the powers and rights of corporations to the rights of people and nature now waits in the wings."

"Judge O'Dell Seneca is on the right side of history," said Bonifaz.

The Judge is a woman, I should have known. Her and Elizabeth Warren are cut from he same cloth and they are both FANTASTIC!!!! Now we need a woman president to show Obama th Wimp how it really should be done.
 
 
+18 # MainStreetMentor 2013-04-17 10:31
Again we find there ARE good needles-in-the- haystack of judges who truly understand and correctly interpret the fundamentals of jurisprudence. Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca is one of them. Let us hope that this 'chink' in the former nearly impenetrable armor of Corprotocracy will widen into a destructive severance of the veil they've stood behind for so lone. Hydraulic fracturing must cease.
 
 
+15 # BobbyLip 2013-04-17 11:17
Wow! This judge is right and she can write! Terrific! I do shudder to think, however, what may well happen if the corporation appeals this ruling to our corporatist SCOTUS.
Hurry up and die, Scalia, so Obama can replace you--hopefully with a natural human being.
 
 
+6 # Rita Walpole Ague 2013-04-17 13:42
Yes, BobbyLip, Kudos to Hon. Debbie O'Dell Seneca, just as I have praised another truly dedicated to liberty and justice for all and rule of law abiding jurist, Hon. Judge Forrest, of the Fed. Dist. Court, Southern Dist. of New York, in the 'case of the century, "Hedges, et. al. v. Obama, et. al.

Judge Forrest also certainly deserves kudoes. Last May, she ruled strongly in favor of our plaintiffs, great journalists, whistleblowers, and justice and peace activists, plus an amazing member of Iceland's parliament, the Hon. Brigitta Jonsdottir, who supported and protected Wikileaks Julian Assange. Judge Forrest's ruling upheld citizen's rights to not be arrested by military, thrown without charge(s) into Guantanamo style jails, indefinite detention with no due process (trial).

Yep, since defendants Obama,Panetta, McCain, Boehner, Reid, Pelosi, McConnell, and Cantor immediately sought reconsideration (denied), then appealed, it is highly likely this case is on it's way to the SCOTUS, as is it more than a bit likely that Judge Seneca's decision in favor of citizens v. corps., will find itself appealed all the way up the ladder to SCOTUS. Will our 'Supremes' have any replacement(s) by the time these cases either get or do not get cert. granted by SCOTUS? Who knows. We can only hope that a judge who is a true jutice/rights supporter, like these two great women jurists, gets appointed by this pres..
 
 
0 # mdhome 2013-04-19 08:53
I hope this ruling stands the test of time and is not overturned by the SCOTUS. It is great to hear of a judge that has not sold out to the corporations, may this become the crack that shatters the protective shell around those who would destroy the health of everyone.
 
 
+11 # angelfish 2013-04-17 11:28
FINALLY! A Judge who ISN'T in the Pocket of Big Business! Maybe there's reason to hope after all!
 
 
+9 # DikBala 2013-04-17 12:39
How very intelligent! I was wondering when some judge was finally going to lay out clearly what seems so obvious to the lay observer—viz., that corporations are created and sustained at the pleasure of the government bodies that charter them, and have no inherent existence or rights apart from that charter. PA's constitution may have stated this more explicitly, but the same is true for all states, and for the country. It's about time someone pointed out that the Emperor really does have no clothes.
 
 
+9 # Texas Aggie 2013-04-17 14:35
"it is axiomatic that corporations, companies, and partnerships have 'no spiritual nature,' 'feelings,' 'intellect,' 'beliefs,' 'thoughts,' 'emotions,' or 'sensations,' because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists"

This was first said in a much more pithy manner a long time ago.

"The problem with corporations is they have no body to be kicked or soul to be damned." Andrew Jackson
 
 
+3 # MainStreetMentor 2013-04-17 16:35
Oh ... the Supreme Court disagrees with you, Texas Aggie. THEY said corporations are "people". Now ... a really innovative, really clever legal mind should be able to find a way to prosecute some corporation AS A PERSON! When that precedent is actually SET - the "legal rug" will be pulled from beneath corprotocracy's feet ... and justice may find a new footing from whence to engage in true jurisprudence.
 
 
0 # Cassandra2012 2013-04-20 13:02
Maybe the CEOs can be executed?
 
 
+2 # giraffee2012 2013-04-17 17:06
Somebody PLEASE send this article to the RATS: Roberts, Alito, Thomas and (especially) Scalia.

Bravo Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca -

Finally a flicker of hope to "buy" back our government from big$$ - but the RATS still have to overturn their Citizen's United decision (and so I hope the RATS leave in any way: resigning, death, impeached (haha unlikely with the GOP held house) - Just GOOOOOOOOO (especially Scalia)
 
 
+3 # tuandon 2013-04-18 06:08
As a Pennsylvania, I can only stand up and cheer that one of our judges actually had the guts to so rule. Our governor is nothing but a prostitute to corporate interests, and it's wonderful to see him and his stinking immoral philosphy struck down for once. Thank you, Your Honour!
 
 
0 # yardmannn27 2013-06-21 09:18
Our government is a corporation . The OPPT foreclosed on it . Has any body heard of this ? yardgolf27@yahoo.com
 

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