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United States v. Hayes Int'l Corp.

Citation: 16 ELR 20717
No. No. 84-7796, 786 F.2d 1499/24 ERC 1282/(11th Cir., 04/21/1986)

In a prosecution for unlawful transport of hazardous waste under § 3008(d) of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the court holds that the government need not prove defendant knew paint waste was a hazardous waste or about disposal sites' permit requirements and thak knowledge of a specific hazardous waste disposal facility's permit status, although required, may be proven by circumstantial evidence. After reviewing the extent of knowledge generally required for regulatory offenses, particularly those concerning inherently hazardous and commonly regulated materials, the court rules that a violation of RCRA § 3008(d)(1) does not require knowledge that the waste had been classified as hazardous under RCRA nor that disposal sites must have a permit. RCRA concerns a heavily regulated field of great importance to public health and safety, and it is fair to assume that those working with hazardous wastes have knowledge of its provisions.

The court holds that knowledge of the destination facility's RCRA permit status is required. Congress intended to prevent transport of hazardous wastes to unlicensed facilities and removal of the scienter requirement would allow innocent conduct to be penalized. The court rules that willful ignorance of the facility's permit status is sufficient, and the government may use circumstantial evidence to prove defendants' guilty knowledge.

Turning to defendants' responses, the court rules that mistake of law is not a defense. The evidence was sufficient for a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants knowingly transported hazardous waste, despite their argument that they believed in good faith that the waste was being recycled. The evidence also sufficed for the jury to believe that defendants knew the disposal facility operated without a RCRA permit. The court rules that a reasonable good faith belief that the disposal facility legally disposes of or recycles its waste is a valid defense, but holds that the evidence supports the jury's rejection of the defense.

Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellant
J. Carol Williams
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2757

Judson W. Starr, Director
Environmental Crimes Unit
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-3575

Counsel for Defendants-Appellees
David B. Byrne Jr.
Robison & Belser
P.O. Drawer 1470, Montgomery AL 36102
(205) 834-7000

H. Thomas Wells, Jr.
Maynard, Cooper, Frierson & Gale
Third Ave. N. & 20th St., Birmingham AL 35203
(205) 252-2889

L. Drew Redden
Redden, Mills & Clark
940 First Alabama Bk. Bldg., Birmingham AL 35203
(205) 322-0457

Before KRAVITCH and HATCHETT, Circuit Judges, and MORGAN, Senior Circuit Judge.