The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a corporate officer may be prosecuted for illegal hazardous waste storage if the officer knew of the illegal storage and directly participated in the conduct that violated RCRA. U.S. v. Reis, No. 09-30177 (9th Cir. 02/04/10) (unpublished). Appealing his conviction, defendant argued that the government could charge and convict either him or the corporation, but not both.
Rejecting his contention, the court observed that the government did not rely on the “responsible corporate officer doctrine” or any other derivative liability theory to establish defendant’s guilt. The U.S. Supreme Court developed the doctrine in United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277 (1943), to hold corporate officers in responsible positions of authority personally (and, in that case, criminally) liable for violating strict liability statutes protecting the public welfare.
The court ruled that the government chose to prove each element of the crime with respect to the defendant individually. According to the court, the government proved that the defendant participated in the facility’s day-to-day management, he had been warned that the material was hazardous waste for which the company used a permit, and he had the power and control to prevent or remedy the violation. The court found “no evidence that the jury found [defendant] guilty merely because he held a position of authority in the company.”