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United States v. Johnson & Towers Inc.

August 15, 1984


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Garth, Sloviter, Circuit Judges, and Neaher, District Judge*fn*

Author: Sloviter


SLOVITER, Circuit Judge

Before us is the government's appeal from the dismissal of three counts of an indictment charging unlawful disposal of hazardous wastes under the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act. In a question of first impression regarding the statutory definition of "person," the district court concluded that the Act's criminal penalty provision imposing fines and imprisonment could not apply to the individual defendants. We will reverse.


The criminal prosecution in this case arose from the disposal of chemicals at a plant owned by Johnson & Towers in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. In its operations the company, which repairs and overhauls large motor vehicles, uses degreasers and other industrial chemicals that contain chemicals such as methylene chloride and trichloroethylene, classified as "hazardous wastes" under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 6901-6987 (1982) and "pollutants" under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1376 (1982). App. at 18a. During the period relevant here, the waste chemicals from cleaning operations were drained into a holding tank and, when the tank was full, pumped into a trench. The trench flowed from the plant property into Parker's Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River. Under RCRA, generators of such wastes must obtain a permit for disposal from the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.). The E.P.A. had neither issued nor received an application for a permit for Johnson & Towers' operations.

The indictment names as defendants Johnson & Towers and two of its employees, Jack Hopkins, a foreman, and Peter Angel, the service manager in the trucking department.*fn1 According to the indictment, over a three-day period federal agents saw workers pump waste from the tank into the trench, and on the third day observed toxic chemicals flowing into the creek.

Count 1 of the indictment charged all three defendants with conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 371 (1982). Counts 2, 3, and 4 alleged violations under the RCRA criminal provision, 42 U.S.C. § 6928(d) (1982). Count 5 alleged a violation of the criminal provision of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1319(c) (1982). Each substantive count also charged the individual defendants as aiders and abettors under 18 U.S.C. § 2 (1982).

The counts under RCRA charged that the defendants "did knowingly treat, store, and dispose of, and did cause to be treated, stored and disposed of hazardous wastes without having obtained a permit . . . in that the defendants discharged, deposited, injected, dumped, spilled, leaked and placed degreasers . . . into the trench. . . ." The indictment alleged that both Angel and Hopkins "managed, supervised and directed a substantial portion of Johnson & Towers' operations . . . including those related to the treatment, storage and disposal of the hazardous wastes and pollutants" and that the chemicals were discharged by "the defendants and others at their direction." The indictment did not otherwise detail Hopkins' and Angel's activities or responsibilities.

Johnson & Towers pled guilty to the RCRA counts. Hopkins and Angel pled not guilty, and then moved to dismiss counts 2, 3, and 4. The court concluded that the RCRA criminal provision applies only to "owners and operators," i.e., those obligated under the statute to obtain a permit. Since neither Hopkins nor Angel was an "owner" or "operator,"*fn2 the district court granted the motion as to the RCRA charges but held that the individuals could be liable on these three counts under 18 U.S.C. § 2 for aiding and abetting. The court denied the government's motion for reconsideration, and the government appealed to this court under 18 U.S.C. § 3731 (1982).

We hold that section 6928(d)(2)(A) covers employees as well as owners and operators of the facility who knowingly treat, store, or dispose of any hazardous waste, but that the employees can be subject to criminal prosecution only if they knew or should have known that there had been no compliance with the permit requirement of section 6925.


The single issue in this appeal is whether the individual defendants are subject to prosecution under RCRA's criminal provision, which applies to:

any person who --

(2) knowingly treats, stores, or disposes of any hazardous waste identified or listed under this subchapter either --

(A) without having obtained a permit under section 6925 of this title . . . or

(B) in knowing violation of any material condition or requirement of such permit.

42 U.S.C. § 6928(d) (emphasis added). The permit provision in section 6925, referred to in section 6928(d), requires "each person owning or operating a facility for the treatment, storage, or disposal of hazardous waste identified or ...

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