44 489 United States v. Park 8212 215 18 8212 19, 1975

Decision Date09 June 1975
Docket NumberNo. 74,74
Citation421 U.S. 658,44 L. Ed. 2d 489,95 S.Ct. 1903
Parties. 44 L.Ed.2d 489 UNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. John R. PARK. —215. Argued March 18—19, 1975
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Acme Markets, Inc., a large national food chain, and respondent, its president, were charged with violating § 301(k) of the Federal Food, drug, and Cosmetic Act (Act) in an information alleging that they had caused interstate food shipments being held in Acme's Baltimore warehouse to be exposed to rodent contamination. Acme, but not respondent, pleaded guilty. At his trial 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 that it was one of the many phases of the company that he assigned to 'dependable subordinates.' Evidence was admitted over respondent's objection that he had received a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) letter in 1970 concerning insanitary conditions at Acme's Philadelphia warehouse. Respondent conceded that the same individuals were largely responsible for sanitation in both Baltimore and Philadelphia, and that as Acme's president he was responsible for any result that occurred in the company. The trial court, inter alia, instructed the jury that although respondent need not have personally participated in the situation, he must have had 'a responsible relationship to the issue.' Respondent was convicted, but the Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that although this Court's decision in United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277, 64 S.Ct. 134, 88 L.Ed. 48, had construed the statutory provisions under which respondent had been tried to dispense with the traditional element of "awareness of some wrongdoing," the Court had not construed them as dispensing with the element of 'wrongful action.' The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court's instructions 'might well have left the jury with the erroneous impression that (respondent) could be found guilty in the absence of 'wrongful action' on his part,' and that proof of that element was required by due process. The court also held that the admission in evidence of the 1970 FDA warning to respondent was reversible error. Held:

1. The Act imposes upon persons exercising authority and supervisory responsibility reposed in them by a business organization not only a positive duty to seek out and remedy violations but also, and primarily, a duty to implement measures that will insure that violations will not occur, United States v. Dotterweich, supra; in order to make food distributors 'the strictest censors of their merchandise,' Smith v. California, 361 U.S. 147, 152, 80 S.Ct. 215, 218, 4 L.Ed.2d 205 the Act punishes 'neglect where the law requires care, or inaction where it imposes a duty.' Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 255, 72 S.Ct. 240, 246, 96 L.Ed. 288. Pp. 670-673.

2. Viewed as a whole and in context, the trial court's instructions were not misleading and provided a proper guide for the jury's determination. The charge adequately focused on the issue of respondent's authority respecting the conditions that formed the basis of the alleged violations, fairly advising the jury that to find guilt it must find that respondent 'had a responsible relation to the situation'; that the 'situation' was the condition of the warehouse; and that by virtue of his position he had 'authority and responsibility' to deal therewith. Pp. 676-678.

3. The admission of testimony concerning the 1970 FDA warning was proper rebuttal evidence to respondent's defense that he had justifiably relied upon subordinates to handle sanitation matters. Pp. 676-678.

499 F.2d 839, reversed.

Allan A. Tuttle, Raleigh, N.C., for petitioner.

Gregory M. Harvey, Philadelphia Pa., for respondent.

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, 64 S.Ct. 134, 88 L.Ed. 48 (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, Pa. 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), 1 in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 331(k).2 Acme pleaded guilty to each count of the information. Respondent pleaded not guilty. The evidence at trial3 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 1971.4 He also related that a second inspection of the warehouse had been conducted in March 1972.5 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.' App. 23.

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.6 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, identi- fied respondent as the president and chief executive officer of the company and read a bylaw prescribing the duties of the chief executive officer. 7 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.' Id., at 41.

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, 64 S.Ct. 134, 88 L.Ed. 48 (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 responsiblities 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.' App. 43—47.

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.8 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 dworking perfectly' and that as Acme's chief executive officer he was responsible for 'any result which occurs in our company.' Id., at 48—55.

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.9 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 over- ruled the objection. The jury found respondent guilty on all counts of the information, and he was subsequently sentenced to pay a fine...

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