In the appeal of case United States v. Park to the United States Supreme Court, the defendants were John Park, the president and chief operating officer of Acme Inc, and Acme Inc., which was a national retail food chain. The plaintiff to this case that government of the United States.
The government had charged Acme Inc and its CEO, Park in the federal district courts for the violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (FDCA). The government raised the argument that the defendants had received foods from one of its warehouse and had been transported in interstate commerce and allowed the food to be contaminated and accessed by rodents. There was evidence produced during trial that indicated that the FDA had issued a letter to Park concerning the sanitary aspects at Acme’s Philadelphia in April 1970. A similar incident was discovered a year later at Acme’s Baltimore, Maryland following an inspection which led to another letter being issued to Park. An inspection in March 1972 at the Acme Baltimore noted a slight improvement to the condition but there was still evidence of rodent activity. In his defense, Park indicated that he had conducted some investigations on the sanitary situation and informed the corporate officers. He later indicated that the responsibility of uphold the sanitary conditions of the foods offered at Acmes was charged to him and that he had delegated to qualified subordinates.
The jury indicated that Park was guilty and he appealed to the Court of Appeal. The courts of appeals reversed the decision and indicated that the district court ought to have told the jury that the government had the task of establishing wrongful action by Park that contributed to the said problem. The government appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the case.
Should John Park, the CEO of Acme Inc. be held criminally responsible for his failure to uphold the sanitary conditions at the premises which lead to the contamination of the food being served and rodents accessing the food in the warehouse?
The Applicable Laws
The law to be used on this case is on white collar crime that covers the crimes committed within a commercial environment by members of the professional-managerial category. Among the unique features under this is that at times the criminal may be a corporation, which is an artificial legal entity. The arising issue was whether the corporation would be held liable (corporate liability) for actions of its employees on its behalf. This was asserted through the imposition of the strict liability offenses. On this note, the laws that are mainly engaged is the blue-sky laws that deals with a situation where an employee at the corporation fails to act in a manner stipulated by regulations. The courts relied on the precedent law on United States v. Dottweich (1943) where the United States Supreme Court had maintained the strict and vicarious liability for the president of the corporation that had been convicted for an alleged public welfare offense.
The plaintiff (the Government of the United States) won the case as the Supreme Court reversed the decision of Court of Appeals and upheld the decision previously made by the federal district court. The United States Supreme Court indicated that the instructions by the trial court had concentrated on the authority and power of the defendants in the issues that contributed to the alleged violations. The United States Supreme Court resolved this issue by granting a certiorari to ascertain where the jury instruction in the prosecution of an employee of a corporate under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act were relevant and appropriate with regard to the Unites States v. Dotterweich.
In reversing the decision by the Court of Appeal and reinstating the Dotterwich convictions, the United States Supreme court considered the purpose of the Act and indicated that it covers the phases of the lives and health status of the people and which in the era of modern industrialism, extends past self-protection (DiTata, 1996). The court observed that the Act offered dispensation with conventional requirement for criminal conduct which was the awareness to acting contrary to the law. In the interest of the large good, its places the burden of considering a potential liability to a person who would have been innocent through the position held in the corporation and holds them responsible in relation to an action causing public danger. In indicating that individuals other than proprietors needs to be subjected to the criminal provisions of the Act, the court based its reasoning on the fact that the only means through which a corporation can act is through the individuals who represent it. The court highlighted the concerns that had been raised by the Court of Appeals on the need to prove consciousness of wrongdoing and noted that this might result in hardship in the determination of the specific employees to be held responsible. In light to this issue, the court reasoned that it was critical that the good sense of prosecutor, wise decision by the trial judge and ultimate judgment by the jury be trusted.
The case presented was important in establishing that corporate employees had a responsibility in ensuring that they acted in a responsible manner. This indicates that the employees cannot just be said to be acting under the agency laws thereby offsetting their wrongful actions or omissions. Corporate employees need to act in a manner that can be deemed as responsible.
DiTata, B. (1996). Proof of Knowledge Under RCRA and Use of the Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine. Fordham Environmental Law Journal, 7(3), 795-815.
United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277, 64 S. Ct. 134, 88 L. Ed. 48 (1943).
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