6 ELR 20628 | Environmental Law Reporter | copyright © 1976 | All rights reserved

Apex Oil Company v. United States

No. 75-1775 (530 F.2d 1291, 8 ERC 1906) (8th Cir. March 8, 1976)

ELR Digest

The court affirms the corporate defendant's conviction for failing to notify federal authorities of known oil spills, in violation of § 311(b)(5) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1321(b)(5), ELR 41118. There is no merit to defendant's contention that only a natural person, not a corporation, can be a "person in charge" who is required to report spills under § 311(b)(5). The spill provision defines "person" to include corporations, 33 U.S.C. § 1321(a)(7), ELR 41117, and nowhere does it set forth a separate definition of "person in charge." United States v. Hougland Barge Line, Inc., 387 F. Supp. 1110, 1113 (W.D. Pa. 1974). Moreover, defendant's construction would frustrate the purpose of the oil spill reporting requirement, which is to assure detection and prompt, effective cleanup of spills. United States v. Mobil Oil Corporation, 464 F.2d 1127, 2 ELR 20456 (5th Cir. 1972) (construing identical predecessor provision in Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970, 33 U.S.C. § 116(b)(5) (1970)). Accord, United States v. Republic Steel Corp., 491 F.2d 315, 4 ELR 20276 (6th Cir. 1974). Nor is there any inconsistency between the phrase "person in charge" and the term "owner or operator" in the civil penalty provision, 33 U.S.C. § 1321(b)(6), ELR 41118; both include corporations. The legislative history is inconclusive at best and does not compel a contrary conclusion. The Coast Guard spill reporting regulations, 33 C.F.R. § 133.01(g), do cover only natural persons. They do not, however, address the issue before the court, as they deal solely with the manner in which reporting duties are to be carried out in daily practice.

Defendant also errs in arguing that the evidence is insufficient to sustain the corporation's conviction. The stipulated facts disclose that two unreported spills were known to the corporate employee in charge. It is immaterial that no corporate officer or director had knowledge of the spills. The corporation was as much "in charge" as its employee, see, e.g., New York Central & H.R.R. Co. v. United States, 212 U.S. 481, 494 (1909); and an employee's knowledge is imputed to his corporation. See United States v. A & P Trucking Co., 358 U.S. 121, 125 (1958); Ritchie Grocer Co. v. Aetna Casualty & Sur. Co., 426 F.2d 499, 500 (8th Cir. 1970).

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (5 pp. $0.75, ELR Order No. C-1070).

Counsel for Plaintiff
John J. Zimmerman
Peter R. Taft, Asst. Attorney General
Department of Justice
Washington DC 20530
(202) 739-4519

Donald J. Stohr, U.S. Attorney
Thomas E. Loraine, Asst. U.S. Attorney
St. Louis MO 63101
(314) 425-4200

Counsel for Defendant
Israel Treiman
Shifrin, Treiman, Bamberg & Dempsey
11 South Meramec, Suite 1350
St. Louis MO 63105
(314) 862-3232

Heaney, J., for himself, Ross & Webster, JJ.


6 ELR 20628 | Environmental Law Reporter | copyright © 1976 | All rights reserved