United States v. International Minerals & Chemical Corporation

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: International Minerals & Chemical Corporation
LOCATION: Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District

DOCKET NO.: 557
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 402 US 558 (1971)
ARGUED: Apr 26, 1971
DECIDED: Jun 01, 1971

Facts of the case

Question

Media for United States v. International Minerals & Chemical Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 26, 1971 in United States v. International Minerals & Chemical Corporation

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear argument next in number 557, United States against International Minerals and Chemicals Corporation.

Mr. Dienelt, you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

John F. Dienelt:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case is here on direct appeal from the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

The District Court dismissed the five-count information alleging violations of Section 834 of Title 18 which deals with the transportation of explosives and other dangerous substances.

Section 834 which we have set forth in part on page 3 of our brief provides that “whoever knowingly violates regulations formulated for the safe transportation of hazardous materials shall be fined up to $1,000.00 or imprisoned not more than a year.”

The information in this case charge the appellee which is a corporation engaged primarily in the manufacturing and shipping of chemicals and fertilizers with violations of a regulation, which we’ve also set forth on page 3, dealing with the contents of shipping papers.

The regulation requires that the shipper state on a shipping paper designated names and classifications of substances which he is shipping.

In this case, for example the shipper was shipping sulfuric acid and the regulations required him to state sulfuric acid on the shipping paper which is the name and corrosive liquid, which is the classification.

And this safety requirement serves essentially two purposes.

First, it indicates to the carrier what kind of labels he should put on the packages and what kind of placards he should put on his truck.

And secondly, the shipping paper itself which is kept in cab of the truck with the driver enables the driver or anybody else who might be involved in an emergency such as an accident or a fire to quickly identify what the substance is and to take whatever appropriate steps such clearing an area might be necessary.

The five counts in this information each alleged similar conduct.

Three of them alleged a knowing failure to state the required classification and as corrosive liquid on the shipping papers.

And two, alleged knowing failure to state both the required classification and the required name of the substance being shipped.

The District Court granted the appellee’s motion to dismiss this information on the ground that it did not state an essential element of the offense and that essential element in the Court’s language was knowledge of violating the regulation.

As we read that ruling, the District Court held that the Government has to allege and prove not only that the appellee knew it was shipping a dangerous article without stating its proper name and classification on the shipping papers, which we alleged in the information but also that it knew the terms of the regulation forbidding that conduct and specifically intended to violate that regulation or as the District Court put it, an added ingredient of consciousness that it’s illegal not to do the act.

So, the question in this case --

Potter Stewart:

Mr. Dienelt, who was the District Judge in this case?

There's no such Judge name Pate, as appears on page 8 in the transcript --

John F. Dienelt:

Well, --

Potter Stewart:

Is that Judge Porter?

John F. Dienelt:

Yes, he was Your Honor.

Potter Stewart:

Well, I thought --

John F. Dienelt:

I gather it was, I didn’t know.

The question in the case then is the simple one and it’s whether a defendant can be convicted under this statute for intentionally engaging in conduct that is prohibited even though he doesn’t know that the law prohibits it.

We believe that a shipper or carrier can be convicted under these circumstances.

Our position is simply that proof of knowledge of pertinent the facts is what is essential and proof of knowledge of law is not that the defendant is presumed to know the regulations governing transportation of dangerous articles.

Now, he's charge with that knowledge under the fundamental principle that ignorance of the law does not excuse its violations by one who intentionally engages in conduct which the law forbids.

Charging shippers and carriers of dangerous substances with knowledge of regulations regarding their transport seems to be a perfectly reasonable thing to do.