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United States v. Southern Union Co.

ELR Citation: 43 ELR 20100
Nos. 07-134, (D.R.I., 04/25/2013) (Smith, J.)

A district court held that community service having a value no more than $500,000 would be an appropriate sentence for a pipeline operator that stored liquid mercury at one of its facilities without a permit. Below, a trial court imposed an $18 million fine against the company, but the sentence was ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court because RCRA violations are punishable by a fine of not more than $50,000 for each day of violation, and the only violation the jury necessarily found was for one day. On remand, the court rejected the government's request to empanel a second jury. The government waived its ability to request a jury finding on the precise number of days by not objecting to the jury instructions or verdict form that was submitted to the first jury. The court also held that the maximum fine it could impose on the operator was $500,000 under the Corporate Fine Statute. But the court concluded that a $500,000 penalty would not adequately punish the operator for its conduct, nor would it deter the operator or other similarly situated companies from similar actions in the future. It therefore invited the parties, and the greater environmental community, to suggest community service obligations that could be imposed upon the operator that would have the broadest possible impact. The dollar value of such an obligation, however, must not exceed $500,000.