United States V. Hansen 262 F.3d 1217

United States V. Hansen 262 F.3d 1217

Summary of the Facts

     In 1972, Christian A. Hansen founded Hansen group, which purchased an industrial plant in Brunswick, Georgia, operating under the name LCP Chemicals-Georgia (LCP). The plant manufactured caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen gas, and chlor-alkali bleach, with around 150 workers operating at the plant cellrooms. LCP was located near Purvis Creek and Tidal marshes. The manufacturing process produced hazardous wastes contaminated with chlorine and mercury and wastewater with high pH. There were several environmental regulations limiting the production and treatment of industrial waste. LCP sought a permit to deposit treated wastewater into the Purvis Creek, after having established treatment system. However, LCP misrepresented to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) that the plant’s wastewater continuous treatment capacity was at 70 gallons per minute as opposed to its actual capacity of 35 gallons per minute. Following accidental spills, bleach began to accumulate on the floor of one of the cellrooms, and the same remained in disrepair. The failure to provide replacement parts caused wastewater to accumulate around the plant.

    LCP continuously violated environmental regulations, with excess wastewater spilling off the cellrooms into the environment due to limited capacity and disrepair of the facility. LCP also failed to ensure the safety of workers, by making them work in contact with the contaminated air, floors and water. An employee complaint led OSHA to inspect the plant and LCP was found to be in willful violation of safety regulations. Hanlin filed for bankruptcy in July 1991, but continued operations of the plant as the debtor-in-possession, and the defendants-appellants managed the plant during that duration. LCP received notice from the Georgia EPD in 1993 of their intention to revoke their permit to deposit the treated waste in the Purvis Creek due to the plant’s continuous violations that had begun in May 1992 of pH, mercury, and total residual chlorine. Christian Hansen in July and August 1993, instructed employees to pump the wastewater into bunker tanks that were previously used for oil storage, making it impossible to run the wastewater through the treatment system.

Parties and their Positions

     In this case, the United States was the Plaintiff-Appellee, while Randall W. Hansen, Christian A. Hansen, and Alfred R. Taylor, were the Defendants-Appellants. Christian Hansen was the founder of the Hanlin Group, and he also served as Chair of the Board, Chief Executive Officer, and President. Hansen also served as the LCP plant manager for about two months. Randall Hansen served as an executive vice president and later as the Chief Executive Officer. Alfred Taylor worked for LCP for about 12 years before becoming the Brunswick operations manager in 1991. He also served as plant manager between February and July 1993.

Procedural History

     The government indicted Christian Hansen, Douglas Brent Hansen, Randall Hansen, and Alfred R. Taylor on 42 counts of different charges including conspiracy to commit environmental crimes at the plant contrary to 18 U.S.C. 371, knowingly endangering employees contrary to 42 U.S.C. 6928(e), storing wastewater in the Bunker tanks contrary to 42 U.S.C. 6928(d)(2)(A), and violating the Clean Water Act (CWA) 33 U.S.C. 1319(c)(2)(A), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) 42 U.S.C. 9603(b)(3) and the Endangered Species Act.

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     The matter underwent a jury trial in the Southern District of Georgia. Douglas Brent Hansen pled guilty and testified against the other three defendants. The defendants-appellants made motions for acquittal, and the same was only granted on the charge of violating the Endangered Species Act. Randall and Christian Hansen were convicted on all their charged counts, while Taylor was convicted on 20 counts. The defendant’s motions for a new trial were denied. Christian and Randall Hansen were sentenced to 108- and 46-months imprisonment respectively, a special assessment of $2,050 and $1,700 respectively, as well as a fine of $20,000 and two years of supervised release each. Taylor received a sentence of 78 months in prison, a special assessment of $1,000, and supervised release for two years. The defendants appealed, and remained on bond pending appeal.

     The matter then went before the United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit. Christian Hansen had four grounds for appeal, the first being that the district court erred in admitting the government’s expert witness testimony. Secondly, Hansen disputed the district court’s definition and application of the reasonable doubt standard, the reasonable corporate officer, the elements of knowing endangerment, and elimination of the mens rea requirement from each statutory violation. Third, Hansen averred that there was inadequate evidence to support his convictions. Finally, Hansen claimed that the district court erred in deciding that it did not have the authority to deviate from the sentencing guidelines set out.

     Randall appealed against the district court failing to grant his motion for judgment of acquittal because he opined that the evidence was not adequate to support his conviction for knowing endangerment. Randall also averred that the government had not proved its case, and the district court had erred by admitting prejudicial evidence, on the elements of the charged substantive offenses, refusing to depart downward, and on the responsible corporate officer instruction as basis for criminal liability. Taylor averred that the district court was erroneous for declining his motion for judgment of acquittal and for a new trial due to inadequate evidence, in its stance regarding the wastewater treatment system, and sentencing him. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court.

Legal Issue

     Did the trial court err in finding the company officials and plant administrators individually guilty as operators of a hazardous waste facility under the environmental statutes (CWA, RCRA, and CERCLA)?

Court Ruling

     No. The Court affirmed the decisions made by the trial court. The court of appeals analyzed the evidence submitted before the district court and decided that it was conclusive in finding the corporate officials criminally liable for violating the provisions of the environmental laws (CWA, RCRA, and CERCLA).

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Reasoning of the Court

     The court stated that Christian Hansen could not be acquitted for violations that occurred during the period when he was not heading the company or serving as the plant manager. The court refused to grant him acquittal on the grounds that although the wrongful acts occurred at a time he was not in position of authority; he had instigated their occurrence. The court was guided by the decision in United States v. Pepe, 747 F.2d 632, 665 (11th Cir.1984) where it was held that the government did not have the burden to prove that the accused was present at the crime scene or active participant, instead it was sufficient to show that the accused person had the same criminal motive as the perpetrator (). A defendant will be found to have aided or abetted a crime if they encouraged its occurrence or obstructing its investigation.

     In the case Hansen, the court of appeals found that he encouraged the violations because he did not stop the heinous acts when he was in decision making position despite having knowledge of their occurrence. The same reasoning was used to dismiss Taylor’s prayer to be acquitted of violations that occurred when he was no longer serving as a plant manager. For Randall Hansen, the court stated that bankruptcy laws do not exonerate a debtor from environmental laws. In addition, the court found that since the appellants were aware of the violations, the court did not err in its decision.

Conclusion

     I agree with the Court’s decision. The defendants-appellants were all in superior positions and received consistent updates and also issued communication regarding the condition of the Industrial plant. Their actions and omissions regarding the pollution at the site were therefore purposeful and willful violations, with some of the most gross violations taking place on their directions Twomey & Jennings, 2013).

The corporation, LCP Chemicals-Georgia, disobeyed the environmental laws by discharging its harmful waste on a regular basis, including high chlorine and mercury concentration. Furthermore, they face a serious OSHA citation due to willful violation of safety rules created for employees’ wellbeing, referring to breathable contaminated air and surfaces.

As a result of continuously misusing the applied environmental permits, namely, the under statutory plant wastewater treatment capacity performance and exceeding contaminant limits, the EPD by the notice of 1993 intended to deprive LCP of the permission to deposit the treated wastewater into the Purvis Creek.

Christian Hansen, together with other managers, was charged with a number of crimes including conspiring to commit environmental crimes, knowing (consciously) endangering workers, improperly storing wastewater, and other different violation of laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. These charges were a result of their management styles that were harmful to the environment as well as their employees because the latter were no more safe during the work.

Christian and Randall Hansens were convicted of all charges against them. Alfred Taylor was convicted on 20 charges. The verdicts were for violations such as conspiracy, jeopardizing staff and violation of environmental laws. The sentence ranged from 46 to 108 months in prison with this being in addition to financial penalties.

Hansen appealed the admissibility of the expert witness testimony, contradicted the announced standards legal rules like the reasonable doubt and the reasonable officer of the corporation rules, claimed there was not enough evidence to support his convictions, as well as argued the court did not adhere to the sentencing guidelines.

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