Her decision echoed language as old as that used when corporations were judged subservient to citizens and as new as the slogans of the "occupy" movement.
Judge O'Dell-Seneca observed that the Pennsylvania state constitution says men and women come into this world with "certain inherent and indefeasible rights' and continued that,
"There are no men or women defendants in the instant case; they are various business entities"legal fictions, existing not by natural birth but by operations of state statutes"Such business entities cannot have been " born equally free and independent,' because they were not born at all. Indeed, the framers of our constitution could not have intended for them to be " free and independent,' because, as the creations of the law, they are always subservient to it.
The various states"allow for business entities to exist but are not required to establish them. In the absence of state law, business entities are nothing. Once created, they become property of the men and women who own them, and, therefore, the constitutional rights that business entities may assert are not coterminous or homogeneous with the rights of human beings. Were they so, the chattel would become the co-equal to its owners, the servant on par with its masters, the agent the peer of its principals, and the legal fabrication superior to the law that created and sustains it."
Two western Pennsylvania newspapers, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Observer-Reporter petitioned the court to unseal the terms of an agreement that settled a suit brought by a Washington County family against Range Resources Corp., Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream, MarkWest Energy Partners, L.P. and MarkWest Energy Group, L.L.C. Stephanie and Chris Hallowich were awarded $750,000 for damages caused by the companies' fracking operation.
Judge O'Dell-Seneca was careful to highlight how corporations are treated differently by federal and state constitutions, by tracing Pennsylvania's back to the original 1776 version: (parens added)
"Had the framers intended the protections of Article I, - 1 (the inherent rights of mankind) to extend to business entities, they certainly could have written, "All persons are created equally free and independent ... .' They did not. Indeed, it is federal Amendment XIV's use of the word " person' that makes its protections applicable to business entities, because its drafters were presumed to have known that " person' is a legal term of art, encompassing business entities under the common law. This was so clear that Chief Justice Waite ruled, prior to oral argument, that:
"The court does not wish to hear argument on the question of whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protections of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.' Santa Clara County v. Southern Pac. R. Co., 118 U.S. 394, 6 S.Ct. 1132 (1886).
Critically, the exact opposite conclusion is derived from plain language of Article X of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It provides, in pertinent part:
- 2. Certain Charters to Be Subject to the Constitution
Private corporations which have accepted or accept the Constitution of this Commonwealth or the benefits of any law passed by the General Assembly after 1873 governing the affairs of corporations shall hold their charters subject to the provisions of the Constitution of this Commonwealth.
- 3. Revocation, Amendment, and Repeal of Charters and Corporation Law
All charters of private corporations and all present and future common or statutory law with respect to the formation or regulation of private corporations or prescribing powers, rights, duties or liabilities or private corporations or their officers, directors or shareholders may be revoked, amended or repealed.
Thus, the constitution vests in business entities no special rights that the laws of this Commonwealth cannot extinguish. In sum, Defendants cannot assert the protections of Article I, - 1, because they are not mentioned in its text."
In a footnote, O'Dell-Seneca added,