United States v. Park
421 U.S. 658 (1975)
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari to consider whether the jury instructions in the prosecution of a corporate officer under § 301 (k) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 52 Stat. 1042, as amended, 21 U.S.C. § 331 (k), were appropriate under United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277 (1943). Acme Markets, Inc., is a national retail food chain with approximately 36,000 employees, 874 retail outlets, 12 general warehouses, and four special warehouses. Its headquarters, including the office of the president, respondent Park, who is chief executive officer of the corporation, are located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In a five-count information filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, the Government charged Acme and respondent with violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Each count of the information alleged that the defendants had received food that had been shipped in interstate commerce and that, while the food was being held for sale in Acme’s Baltimore warehouse following shipment in interstate commerce, they caused it to be held in a building accessible to rodents and to be exposed to contamination by rodents. These acts were alleged to have resulted in the food’s being adulterated within the meaning of 21 U.S.C. §§ 342 (a)(3) and (4), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 331 (k). Acme pleaded guilty to each count of the information. Respondent pleaded not guilty. The evidence at trial demonstrated that in April 1970 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised respondent by letter of insanitary conditions in Acme’s Philadelphia warehouse. In 1971 the FDA found that similar conditions existed in the firm’s Baltimore warehouse. An FDA consumer safety officer testified concerning evidence of rodent infestation and other insanitary conditions discovered during a 12-day inspection of the Baltimore warehouse in November and December 1971. He also related that a second inspection of the warehouse had been conducted in March 1972. On that occasion the inspectors found that there had been improvement in the sanitary conditions, but that “there was still evidence of rodent activity in the building and in the warehouses and we found some rodent-contaminated lots of food items.”
The Government also presented testimony by the Chief of Compliance of the FDA’s Baltimore office, who informed respondent by letter of the conditions at the Baltimore warehouse after the first inspection. There was testimony by Acme’s Baltimore division vice president, who had responded to the letter on behalf of Acme and respondent and who described the steps taken to remedy the insanitary conditions discovered by both inspections. The Government’s final witness, Acme’s vice president for legal affairs and assistant secretary, identified respondent as the president and chief executive officer of the company and read a bylaw prescribing the duties of the chief executive officer. He testified that respondent functioned by delegating “normal operating duties” including sanitation, but that he retained “certain things, which are the big, broad, principles of the operation of the company and had “the responsibility of seeing that they all work together.”
At the close of the Government’s case in chief, respondent moved for a judgment of acquittal on the ground that “the evidence in chief has shown that Mr. Park is not personally concerned in this Food and Drug violation.” The trial judge denied the motion, stating that United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277 (1943), was controlling.
Respondent was the only defense witness. He testified that, although all of Acme’s employees were in a sense under his general direction, the company had an “organizational structure for responsibilities for certain functions” according to which different phases of its operation were “assigned to individuals who, in turn, have staff and departments under them.” He identified those individuals responsible for sanitation, and related that upon receipt of the January 1972 FDA letter, he had conferred with the vice president for legal affairs, who informed him that the Baltimore division vice president “was investigating the situation immediately and would be taking corrective action and would be preparing a summary of the corrective action to reply to the letter.” Respondent stated that he did not “believe there was anything [he] could have done more constructively than what [he] found was being done.”
On cross-examination, respondent conceded that providing sanitary conditions for food offered for sale to the public was something that he was “responsible for in the entire operation of the company” and he stated that it was one of many phases of the company that he assigned to “dependable subordinates.” Respondent was asked about and, over the objections of his counsel, admitted receiving, the April 1970 letter addressed to him from the FDA regarding insanitary conditions at Acme’s Philadelphia warehouse. He acknowledged that, with the exception of the division vice president, the same individuals had responsibility for sanitation in both Baltimore and Philadelphia. Finally, in response to questions concerning the Philadelphia and Baltimore incidents, respondent admitted that the Baltimore problem indicated the system for handling sanitation “wasn’t working perfectly” and that as Acme’s chief executive officer he was “responsible for any result which occurs in our company.”
At the close of the evidence, respondent’s renewed motion for a judgment of acquittal was denied. The relevant portion of the trial judge’s instructions to the jury challenged by respondent is set out in the margin. Respondent’s counsel objected to the instructions on the ground that they failed fairly to reflect our decision in United States v. Dotterweich supra, and to define “‘responsible relationship.’” The trial judge overruled the objection. The jury found respondent guilty on all counts of the information, and he was subsequently sentenced to pay a fine of $50 on each count. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial.
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The question presented by the Government’s petition for certiorari in United States v. Dotterweich, and the focus of this Court’s opinion, was whether the manager of a corporation, as well as the corporation itself, may be prosecuted under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 for the introduction of misbranded and adulterated articles into interstate commerce. In Dotterweich, a jury had disagreed as to the corporation, a jobber purchasing drugs from manufacturers and shipping them in interstate commerce under its own label, but had convicted Dotterweich, the corporation’s president and general manager. The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction on the ground that only the drug dealer, whether corporation or individual, was subject to the criminal provisions of the Act, and that where the dealer was a corporation, an individual connected therewith might be held personally only if he was operating the corporation as his ‘alter ego.’
In reversing the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstating Dotterweich’s conviction, this Court looked to the purposes of the Act and noted that they “touch phases of the lives and health of people which, in the circumstances of modern industrialism, are largely beyond self-protection. It observed that the Act is of “a now familiar type” which “dispenses with the conventional requirement for criminal conduct-awareness of some wrongdoing: In the interest of the larger good it puts the burden of acting at hazard upon a person otherwise innocent but standing in responsible relation to a public danger. Central to the Court’s conclusion that individuals other than proprietors are subject to the criminal provisions of the Act was the reality that the only way in which a corporation can act is through the individuals, who act on its behalf.
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The Court recognized that, because the Act dispenses with the need to prove “consciousness of wrongdoing,” it may result in hardship even as applied to those who share “responsibility in the business process resulting in” a violation.…The rule that corporate employees who have “a responsible share in the furtherance of the transaction which the statute outlaws” are subject to the criminal provisions of the Act was not formulated in a vacuum. Cf. Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 258 (1952). Cases under the Federal Food and Drugs Act of 1906 reflected the view both that knowledge or intent were not required to be proved in prosecutions under its criminal provisions, and that responsible corporate agents could be subjected to the liability thereby imposed.
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The rationale of the interpretation given the Act in Dotterweich…has been confirmed in our subsequent cases. Thus, the Court has reaffirmed the proposition that the public interest in the purity of its food is so great as to warrant the imposition of the highest standard of care on distributors.
Thus Dotterweichand the cases which have followed reveal that in providing sanctions which reach and touch the individuals who execute the corporate mission—and this is by no means necessarily confined to a single corporate agent or employee—the Act imposes not only a positive duty to seek out and remedy violations when they occur but also, and primarily, a duty to implement measures that will insure that violations will not occur. The requirements of foresight and vigilance imposed on responsible corporate agents are beyond question demanding, and perhaps onerous, but they are no more stringent than the public has a right to expect of those who voluntarily assume positions of authority in business enterprises whose services and products affect the health and well-being of the public that supports them.
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Reading the entire charge satisfies us that the jury’s attention was adequately focused on the issue of respondent’s authority with respect to the conditions that formed the basis of the alleged violations. Viewed as a whole, the charge did not permit the jury to find guilt solely on the basis of respondent’s position in the corporation; rather, it fairly advised the jury that to find guilt it must find respondent “had a responsible relation to the situation,” and “by virtue of his position…had…authority and responsibility” to deal with the situation.
The situation referred to could only be “food…held in unsanitary conditions in a warehouse with the result that it consisted, in part, of filth or…may have been contaminated with filth.”
Our conclusion that the Court of Appeals erred in its reading of the jury charge suggests as well our disagreement with that court concerning the admissibility of evidence demonstrating that respondent was advised by the FDA in 1970 of insanitary conditions in Acme’s Philadelphia warehouse. We are satisfied that the Act imposes the highest standard of care and permits conviction of responsible corporate officials who, in light of this standard of care, have the power to prevent or correct violations of its provisions.
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- Did Park have criminal intent to put adulterated food into commerce? If not, how can Park’s conduct be criminalized?
- To get a conviction, what does the prosecutor have to show, other than that Park was the CEO of Acme and therefore responsible for what his company did or didn’t do?