United States v. International Minerals Chemical Corp, No. 557

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtDOUGLAS
Citation91 S.Ct. 1697,402 U.S. 558,29 L.Ed.2d 178
Docket NumberNo. 557
Decision Date01 June 1971
PartiesUNITED STATES, Appellant, v. INTERNATIONAL MINERALS & CHEMICAL CORP

402 U.S. 558
91 S.Ct. 1697
29 L.Ed.2d 178
UNITED STATES, Appellant,

v.

INTERNATIONAL MINERALS & CHEMICAL CORP.

No. 557.
Argued April 26, 1971.
Decided June 1, 1971.

Syllabus

Appellee was charged by information with shipping sulfuric and hydrofluosilicic acids in interstate commerce and that it 'did knowingly fail to show on the shipping papers the required classification of said property, to wit, Corrosive Liquid, in violation of 49 CFR 173.437,' issued pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 834(a). Section 834(f) provides that whoever 'knowingly violates and such regulation' shall be fined and imprisoned. The District Court dismissed the information, holding that it did not charge a 'knowing violation' of the regulation. Held: The statute does not signal an exception to the general rule that ignorance of the law is no excuse. The word 'knowingly' in the statute pertains to knowledge of the facts, and where, as here, dangerous products are involved, the probability of regulation is so great that anyone who is aware that he is in possession of or dealing with them must be presumed to be aware of the regulation. Pp. 560—565.

Reversed.

John F. Dienelt, Washington, D.C., for appellant, pro hac vice, by special leave of Court.

Harold E. Spencer, Chicago, Ill., for appellee.

Page 559

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The information charged that appellee shipped sulfuric acid and hydrofluosilicic acid in interstate commerce and 'did knowingly fail to show on the shipping papers the required classfication of said property, to wit, Corrosive Liquid, in violation of 49 C.F.R. 173.427.'

Title 18 U.S.C. § 834(a) gives the Interstate Commerce Commission power to 'formulate regulations for the safe transportation' of 'corrosive liquids' and 18 U.S.C. § 834(f) states that whoever 'knowingly violates any such regulation' shall be fined or imprisoned.

Pursuant to the power granted by § 834(a) the regulatory agency1 promulgated the regulation already cited which reads in part:

'Each shipper offering for transportation any hazardous material subject to the regulations in this chapter, shall describe that article on the shipping paper by the shipping name prescribed in § 172.5 of this chapter and by the classification prescribed in § 172.4 of this chapter, and may add a further description not inconsistent therewith. Abbreviations must not be used.' 49 CFR § 173.427.

The District Court, relying primarily on Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States, 342 U.S. 337, 72 S.Ct. 329, 96 L.Ed. 367, ruled that the information did not charge a 'knowing violation' of the regulation and accordingly dismissed the information, 318 F.Supp. 1335.

The United States filed a notice of appeal to the Court of Appeals, 18 U.S.C. § 3731, and in reliance on that section later moved to certify the case to this Court which

Page 560

the Court of Appeals did; and we noted probable jurisdiction, 400 U.S. 990, 91 S.Ct. 451, 27 L.Ed.2d 437.

Here as in United States v. Freed, 401 U.S. 601, 91 S.Ct. 1112, 28 L.Ed.2d 356, which dealt with the possession of hand grenades, strict or absolute liability is not imposed; knowledge of the shipment of the dangerous materials is required. The sole and narrow question is whether 'knowledge' of the regulation is also required. It is in that narrow zone that the issue of 'mens rea' is raised; and appellee bears down hard on the provision in 18 U.S.C. § 834(f) that whoever 'knowingly violates any such regulation' shall be fined, etc.

Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States, supra, on which the District Court relied, is not dispositive of the issue. It involved a regulation governing transporting explosives, inflammable liquids, and the like and required drivers to 'avoid, so far as practicable, and, where feasible, by prearrangement of routes, driving into or through congested thoroughfares, places where crowds are assembled, street car tracks, tunnels, viaducts, and dangerous crossings.' The statute punished whoever 'knowingly' violated the regulation. Id., at 339, 72 S.Ct., at 330. The issue of 'mens rea' was not raised below, the sole question turning on whether the standard of guilt was unconstitutionally vague. Id., at 340, 72 S.Ct., at 330—331. In holding the statute was not void for vagueness we said:

'The statute punishes only those who knowingly violate the Regulation. This requirement of the presence of culpable intent as a necessary element of the offense does much to destroy any force in the argument that application of the Regulation would be so unfair that it must be held invalid. That is evident from a consideration of the effect of the requirement in this case. To sustain a conviction, the Government not only must prove that petitioner could have taken another route which was both

Page 561

commercially practicable and appreciably safer (in its avoidance of crowded thoroughfares, etc.) than the one it did follow. It must also be shown that petitioner knew that there was such a practicable, safer route and yet deliberately took the more dangerous route through the tunnel, or that petitioner willfully neglected to exercise its duty under the Regulation to inquire into the availability of such an alternative route.

'In an effort to give point to its argument, petitioner asserts that there was no practicable route its trucks might have followed which did not pass through places they were required to avoid. If it is true that in the congestion surrounding the lower Hudson there was no practicable way of crossing the River which would have avoided such points of danger to a substantially greater extent than the route taken, then petitioner has not violated the Regulation. But that is plainly a matter for proof at the trial. We are not so conversant with all the routes in that area that we may, with no facts in the record before us, assume the allegations of the indictment to be false. We will not thus distort the judicial notice concept to strike down a regulation adopted only after much consultation with those affected and penalizing only those who knowingly violate its prohibition.' Id., at 342—343, 72 S.Ct., at 331—332.

The 'mens rea' that emerged in the foregoing discussion was not knowledge of the regulation but knowledge of the safer routes and those that were less safe within the meaning of the regulation. Mr. Justice Jackson, writing in dissent for himself, Mr. Justice Black, and Mr. Justice Frankfurter, correctly said:

'I do not suppose the Court intends to suggest that if petitioner knew nothing of the existence of

Page 562

such a regulation its ignorance would constitute a defense.' 342 U.S., at 345, 72 S.Ct., at 333.

There is no issue in the present case of the propriety of the delegation of the power to establish regulations and of the validity of the regulation at issue. We therefore see no reason why the word 'regulations' should not be construed as a shorthand designation for specific acts or omissions which violate the Act. The Act, so viewed, does not signal an exception to the rule that ignorance of the law is no excuse and is wholly consistent with the legislative history.

The failure to change the language in § 834 in 1960 should not lead to a contrary conclusion. The Senate approved an amendment deleting 'knowingly' and substituting therefor the language 'being aware that the Interstate Commerce Commission has formulated regulations for the safe transportation of explosives and other dangerous articles.'2 But the House refused to agree. As the House Committee stated, its version would 'retain the present law by providing that a person must 'knowingly' violate the regulations.'3

The House Committee noted there was a 'judicial pronouncement as to the standards of conduct that make a violation a 'knowing' violation.'4 In St. Johnsbury Trucking Co. v. United States, 220 F.2d 393, 397, Chief Judge Magruder had concluded that knowledge of the regulations was necessary. But whether the House Committee was referring to Boyce Motor Lines or the opinion of Chief Judge Magruder is not clear since both views of the section were...

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275 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Weitzenhoff, Nos. 92-10105
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • August 8, 1994
    ...that modern statutes now punish public welfare offenses with much more significant terms of imprisonment. E.g., International Minerals, 402 U.S. 558, 91 S.Ct. 1697 (ten years imprisonment if death or bodily injury results from violation); United States v. Freed, 401 U.S. 601, 609-10, 91 S.C......
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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
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    ...rule applies with especial force to laws regulating hazardous substances. In United States v. Int'l Minerals Page 606 & Chem. Corp., 402 U.S. 558, 91 S.Ct. 1697, 29 L.Ed.2d 178 (1971), the Court upheld a conviction of a knowing failure to show shipping papers of a corrosive liquid. The gove......
  • Jerman v. CARLISLE, McNELLIE, RINI, KRAMER, No. 08-1200.
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    • January 13, 2010
    ...342 U.S. 337, 345, 72 S.Ct. 329, 96 L.Ed. 367 (1952) (Jackson, J., dissenting)); United States v. International Minerals & Chemical Corp., 402 U.S. 558, 559, 563, 91 S.Ct. 1697, 29 L.Ed.2d 178 (1971) (statute imposing criminal liability on those who "`knowingly violat[e]'" regulations gover......
  • U.S. v. Baytank (Houston), Inc., Nos. 89-2129
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • June 13, 1991
    ...a fully automatic gun or how the law defined fully automatic) was a defense. In United States v. International Minerals & Chemical Corp., 402 U.S. 558, 91 S.Ct. 1697, 29 L.Ed.2d 178 (1971), a case involving the shipment of sulfuric acid and hydrofluosilicic acid in violation of an Interstat......
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264 cases
  • U.S. v. Weitzenhoff, Nos. 92-10105
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • August 8, 1994
    ...that modern statutes now punish public welfare offenses with much more significant terms of imprisonment. E.g., International Minerals, 402 U.S. 558, 91 S.Ct. 1697 (ten years imprisonment if death or bodily injury results from violation); United States v. Freed, 401 U.S. 601, 609-10, 91 S.C......
  • U.S. v. Ho, No. 01-20460.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • October 31, 2002
    ...rule applies with especial force to laws regulating hazardous substances. In United States v. Int'l Minerals Page 606 & Chem. Corp., 402 U.S. 558, 91 S.Ct. 1697, 29 L.Ed.2d 178 (1971), the Court upheld a conviction of a knowing failure to show shipping papers of a corrosive liquid. The gove......
  • Jerman v. CARLISLE, McNELLIE, RINI, KRAMER, No. 08-1200.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • January 13, 2010
    ...342 U.S. 337, 345, 72 S.Ct. 329, 96 L.Ed. 367 (1952) (Jackson, J., dissenting)); United States v. International Minerals & Chemical Corp., 402 U.S. 558, 559, 563, 91 S.Ct. 1697, 29 L.Ed.2d 178 (1971) (statute imposing criminal liability on those who "`knowingly violat[e]'" regulations gover......
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    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • June 13, 1991
    ...a fully automatic gun or how the law defined fully automatic) was a defense. In United States v. International Minerals & Chemical Corp., 402 U.S. 558, 91 S.Ct. 1697, 29 L.Ed.2d 178 (1971), a case involving the shipment of sulfuric acid and hydrofluosilicic acid in violation of an Interstat......
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