Wednesday, May 16, 2012

USA v. J. Pruett, et al

May 15: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, Case No. 11-30572. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. J. Jeffrey Pruett, the president and chief executive officer of both Louisiana Land & Water Co., and LWC Management, who own and operate numerous wastewater treatment facilities, were charged with knowingly violating the Clean Water Act. After a ten-day trial, they were convicted on multiple counts and the Appeals Court affirmed the convictions and sentences.
    The seventeen-count indictment charged four broad categories of offenses, all in violation of 33 U.S.C. §§ 1311(a), 1342, and 1319(c)(2)(A): (1) failure to provide proper operation and maintenance of the facilities; (2) failure to maintain monitoring results as required by the permits; (3) discharge in excess of effluent limitations; and (4) unpermitted discharge. Several counts were dismissed on the government's motion.
    In part of its decision, the Appeals Court said, "The district court rejected the defendant's argument that gross negligence was required under the statute, and this court affirmed. The O'Keefe court explained, 'when the plain meaning of the statute is clear on its face, courts are required to give effect to the language of the statute according to its terms.' Id. at 279. The court then evaluated § 1115, and found 'nothing in the statute's terms suggesting that the words "misconduct, negligence or inattention," were ever meant to imply gross negligence or heat of passion . . . .' Id. This rationale is equally applicable to § 1319(c)(1)(A), and bolsters our conclusion that this subsection imposes an ordinary negligence standard."
    The district court imposed the following fines on each Appellant, jointly and severally: (1) $310,000 for Pruett, (2) $300,000 for LLWC, and (3) $240,000 for LWC Management. Appellants objected to these fines on various grounds. The Appeals Court said "the fines imposed upon Appellants were reasonable."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Water, #CA5]
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