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Fiore v. White

November 30, 1999

WILLIAM FIORE, PETITIONER
v.
GREGORY WHITE, WARDEN, ET AL.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Syllabus

OCTOBER TERM, 1999

Argued October 12, 1999

Petitioner Fiore and his co-defendant Scarpone were convicted of "operat[ing] a hazardous waste" facility without a "permit," Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 35, §6018.401(a), because their operation deviated significantly from the terms of the permit they possessed. Fiore appealed his conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which affirmed; but Scarpone appealed his conviction to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, which reversed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied further review of Fiore's case, and his conviction became final. However, it subsequently affirmed the Commonwealth Court's decision in Scarpone's case, finding that §6018.401(a) does not apply to those who posses a permit but deviate radically from the permit's terms. After the Pennsylvania courts refused to reconsider Fiore's identical conviction, he sought federal habeas relief, arguing, inter alia, that the Federal Constitution required that his conviction be set aside because his conduct was not criminal under §6018.401(a). The District Court granted his petition, but the Third Circuit reversed, primarily because it believed that state courts have no obligation to apply their decisions retroactively.

Held: To help determine the proper state-law predicate for this Court's determination of the federal constitutional questions raised here, the Court certifies to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court the question whether the interpretation of §6018.401(a) set forth in Scarpone v. Commonwealth, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Breyer

Breyer, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Opinion of the Court

on writ of Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Third Circuit

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania convicted co-defendants William Fiore and David Scarpone of violating a provision of Pennsylvania law forbidding any person to "operate a hazardous waste" facility without a "permit." Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 35, §6018.401(a) (Purdon 1993) (reprinted at Appendix A, infra). Each co-defendant appealed to a different intermediate state court, one of which affirmed Fiore's conviction, the other of which reversed Scarpone's. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied further review of Fiore's case, and his conviction became final. However, that court agreed to review Scarpone's case, and it subsequently held that the statutory provision did not apply to those who, like Scarpone and Fiore, possessed a permit but deviated radically from the permit's terms. Consequently, it set aside Scarpone's conviction.

In light of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision in Scarpone, Fiore asked the Pennsylvania courts to reconsider his identical conviction. They denied his request. He then brought a federal habeas corpus petition in which he argued, among other things, that Pennsylvania's courts, either as a matter of Pennsylvania law or as a matter of federal constitutional law, must apply the Scarpone interpretation of the statute to his identical case. If this proposition of law is correct, he asserted, it would follow that the Commonwealth failed to produce any evidence at all with respect to one essential element of the crime (namely, the lack of a permit). On this reasoning, Fiore concluded that the Federal Constitution requires his release. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U. S. 307, 316 (1979); In re Winship, 397 U. S. 358, 364 (1970).

The Federal District Court granted the habeas petition, but the Court of Appeals reversed that decision. We agreed to review the appellate court's rejection of Fiore's claim. Before deciding whether the Federal Constitution requires that Fiore's conviction be set aside in light of Scarpone, we first must know whether Pennsylvania itself considers Scarpone to have explained what Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 35, §6018.401(a) always meant, or whether Pennsylvania considers Scarpone to have changed the law. We invoke the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's certification procedure in order to obtain that court's view of the matter. See Appendix B, infra.

I.

The relevant background circumstances include the following:

1. Fiore owned and operated a hazardous waste disposal facility in Pennsylvania. Scarpone was the facility's general manager. Pennsylvania authorities, while conceding that Fiore and Scarpone possessed a permit to operate the facility, claimed that their deliberate alteration of a monitoring pipe to hide a leakage problem went so far beyond the terms of the permit that the operation took place without a permit at all. A jury convicted them both of having "operate[d] a hazardous waste storage, treatment or disposal facility" without a "permit." Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 35, §6018.401(a); see Commonwealth v. Fiore, CC No. 8508740 (Ct. Common Pleas, Allegheny Cty., Pa., Jan. 19, 1988), p. 2, App. 6 (marking date of conviction as Feb. 18, 1986). The trial court upheld the conviction, despite the existence of a permit, for, in its view, the "alterations of the ... pipe represented such a significant departure from the terms of the existing permit that the operation of the hazardous waste facility was `un-permitted' after the alterations were taken ... ." Id., at 48, App. 44.

2. Fiore appealed his conviction to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. ยง742 (1998) (granting the Superior Court jurisdiction over all appeals from a final order of a court of common pleas). That court affirmed the conviction "on the basis of the opinion of the court below." Commonwealth v. Fiore, No. 00485 PGH 1988 (May 12, 1989), pp. 2-3, App. 99-100. The Pennsylvania Supreme ...


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