United States v. A & P Trucking Company

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: A & P Trucking Company
LOCATION: Fargo, North Dakota

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 358 US 121 (1958)
ARGUED: Oct 20, 1958
DECIDED: Dec 08, 1958

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. A & P Trucking Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 20, 1958 (Part 1) in United States v. A & P Trucking Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 20, 1958 (Part 2) in United States v. A & P Trucking Company

Earl Warren:

Mr. Spritzer, you may proceed.

Ralph S. Spritzer:

If the Court, please.

In elaboration of my answer to Mr. Justice Black's question earlier I'm able to confirm that there has been no legislation offered on the subject as covered by this Court's American Freightways decision since that day.

Turning to the implications that flow from the fact that these statutes require proof of scienter or knowledge, the suggestion that the inclusion of the word “knowing” should lead the Court to conclude that a partnership entity is not liable.

It seems to us, to begin with, proved too much because appellees apparently don't questions as indeed they hardly could in the light of the numerous decisions, including decisions of this Court that a corporation may be held criminally liable under 18 U.S.C. 835.

Therefore, it must be, we think, that this is a statute in which the word “knowing or willful” requires the Government to prove that the violation was conscious, but not a case in which the Government is required to prove criminal intent or evil or corrupt purpose in the sense that one must prove mens rea in a common-law crime.

We think, in other words, that “knowing” and “willful” in this statute means simply that it is a defense that the violation was wholly inadvertent.

We don't think it's a defense for the proprietors of the business to say, “We're not liable because we didn't bother with this.

We delegated all responsibility to our underlings.”

To take such a view of the statute would indeed hamper enforcement if not largely cripple it and I say that for these reasons.

If one looks at the explosives regulations that are involved in part in this case, one finds some 700 pages of detailed regulation dealing with all types of chemical compounds, all types of containers which should be used and the like, regulations which make it almost the job of industrial engineering to comply.

Now we think it's obvious that these regulations are intended to impose a responsibility upon management.

Management can employ the expertise required to know and understand and implement these regulations.

It alone can engage in the supervision, the discipline, the training which is necessary if this type of enterprise is to be carried on with a high degree of faith and we think it would defeat the congressional purpose in adopting commercial regulation of this type.

If it were a defense for the business entity to say as I've mentioned a moment ago, we don't know whether these explosive regulations were complied with.

We leave that to the assistant dispatcher or the driver.

Felix Frankfurter:

Of course one way of dealing with that problem, is not dealing with these words that give rise to these argument of purposeful desire?

Ralph S. Spritzer:

Well we -- we do argue them and when we think with considerable basis that these words are adequate and clear in their purport.

Certainly we don't see how Congress could do better than it has in 222 (a) which in the very, I'm sorry in Section 203.

Now that that Section, which is in the very same part of the statute as the misdemeanor Section, defines “person” to include every type of business organization and we think insofar as 18 U.S.C. 835 is concerned that the emphasis upon the regulations being binding upon all common carriers is highly persuasive of the thesis that liability should go where responsibility is placed.

Felix Frankfurter:

I don't think it adds social policy or even judicial policy to exact care brought us upon this in training fee to legislation and the lax of the interpretation by Court, the lax the responsibility exercised by the Congress.

Ralph S. Spritzer:

That's true.

We --

And the opposite way to paraphrase it in hearing (Inaudible)

Ralph S. Spritzer:

Well it was sufficiently clear Your Honor so the -- dozens and dozens of district courts have enforced this statute against partnership entities and until 1956, the question had never even been raised.

Of course if one goes so far as to say language isn't clear because there's been litigation that -- I suppose one couldn't argue plain language in any case.

We think this is sufficiently plain to leave Your Honors to conclude that this is what Congress proposed and we think the whole purpose, the whole thrust of the regulations that are embodied in these statutes eloquently support that view.

These after all are -- are classic-type business offenses.

What Congress is doing here is attempting to see to it that the people who run the business live up to prescribed standards.

Felix Frankfurter:

But the same -- but the same requirement applies to an individual.