Jail for Officers’ Alleged Failure to Ensure Food Product Safety

The new Eighth Circuit decision in U.S. v. DeCoster, discussing the responsible corporate officer doctrine, is an important case for corporate officers, managing agents and board members as the Eighth Circuit upheld jail time for the corporate officers’ alleged failure to ensure the safety of food that was sold to the public (i.e., egg safety, and salmonella).

In addition to typical criminal wrongdoing, for some time corporate and corporate officer criminal punishment, including jail time, has been expanded to include situations of environmental contamination (representing potentially an injury to the environment and also to public health).

The DeCoster case reflects a continuing march toward expanding possible corporate and corporate officer criminal punishment, including jail time, for injury to public physical health (in this case, food safety), even when there is a lack of evidence of the corporate officer’s actual and direct wrongdoing. In summary, in these cases the criminal wrongdoing arises from the corporate officer’s executive or managing agent status or standing and authority, and his or her alleged failure to sufficiently ensure the safety of the product (food) that is sold by the corporation or business to the general public. The following is a link to a good discussion of the case on the D & O Diary, CLICK HERE.  Obviously the implications are important for general public product and service providers, particularly those that offer products or services that could cause or involve a resulting injury to the physical health of the public.

Best, Dave Tate, Esq. (San Francisco)