The Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine

The Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine

The theory of the Responsible Corporate Officer doctrine is that knowledge may be inferred from the position of responsibility and authority with a company.  See United States v. Park, 421 U.S. 658 (1975); United States v. Dotterwich, 320 U.S. 277 (1943).  The definition of “person” in the CWA and the CAA includes “any responsible corporate officer.”  33 U.S.C. § 1319 (c)(3); 33 U.S.C. § 7413 (c)(6).  In its extreme, the doctrine equates knowing offenses with negligence. United States v. Dee, 912 F.2d 741 (4th Cir. 1990).  While this position has not gained universal support and some courts are rejecting the “should have known” standard, see United States v. MacDonald Watson Waste Oil Co., 933 F.2d 35 (1st Cir. 1991) and United States v. White, 799 F. Supp. 873 (D. Wash. 1991), it is gaining in application and acceptance.  The defense position is that status, position and authority should be used only as circumstantial evidence of actual knowledge.

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