United States v. Humphries

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 08-29-2013
  • Case #: 11-50383
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fisher for the Court; Circuit Judge Pregerson; District Judge Daniel
  • Full Text Opinion

“Disposal” of hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. § 6928, begins with an “act of disposal,” not an individual’s “subjective decision to dispose.”

Harry Humphries co-owned a chemical company that stored used chemicals in a rented building. Years after the building owner sold the building and the chemicals were removed, Humphries was charged with knowingly storing hazardous waste in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 6928, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. At trial, Humphries claimed that he was not storing the chemicals because he “had decided to have them removed.” The jury instructions defined the “storage” of hazardous waste under 42 U.S.C. § 6903(33) as “the containment of hazardous waste…in such a manner as not to constitute disposal of such hazardous waste.” The jury asked whether “disposal” begins “with the act of disposal or with the decision to dispose.” The court answered that “disposal begins with the act of disposal….” The jury convicted Humphries, and he appealed. Humphries claimed that the district court incorrectly answered the jury’s question because he believed he could not be convicted of storing the waste since he had decided to dispose of it. The Ninth Circuit noted that under § 6903(3) and (33), disposal refers to an act. The statute did not support Humphries’ interpretation, which would allow someone to claim he was not “storing” waste simply because he was “intending” to dispose of it. Humphries also claimed that the answer to the jury’s question directed it to “an adverse finding as to the storage element” and that he could not have “knowingly” stored the waste since he was trying to remove it. The district court’s response to the jury’s question only reflected that Humphries had not “disposed of” the waste as defined by the statute. Therefore, the court’s answer had not prevented the jury from finding that Humphries lacked the required mental state, and the jury instruction was not an abuse of discretion. AFFIRMED.

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