Oil Re-Refining Co. v. Environmental Quality Comm. 

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 02-09-2017
  • Case #: S063590
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Balmer, C.J. for the Court; Kistler, J.; Walters, J.; Landau, J.; Baldwin, J.; Brewer, J.; & Ortega, J. pro tempore
  • Full Text Opinion

A strict liability standard applies to the Department of Environmental Quality’s enforcement actions for simple violations of substantive standards.

Oil Re-Refining Company (“ORRCO”), appealed a Court of Appeals judgment affirming the final order of the Environmental Quality Commission (“Commission”) finding various violations and imposing civil penalties for improper treatment of hazardous waste. The Department of Environmental Quality (“Department”) assessed civil penalties against ORRCO after it determined that ORRCO had accepted hazardous waste without a proper manifest form and treated hazardous waste without a proper permit. ORRCO asserted a reasonable-reliance defense, arguing it had reasonably relied on assurances by the generator of the waste that the material was not hazardous, and therefore did not require the manifest and permit at issue. The Commission interpreted the relevant provisions to impose a strict liability standard, and issued a final order imposing civil penalties. The Court of Appeals agreed with the Commission’s interpretations, and affirmed the order. On review, ORRCO argued the Commission erred in interpreting the relevant provisions to impose a strict liability standard. The Department enforced the substantive standards under its authority to “assess a civil penalty for any violation” under OAR 340-012-0045, which does not make such authority subject to a culpability requirement. If the Department presents evidence of a party’s intentional or reckless mental state, it can establish an “extreme violation,” calling for a higher penalty. The Court reasoned that because the Legislature expressly chose to require evidence of culpable mental states for extreme violations but not for simple violations, it intended to authorize the Department to bring enforcement actions for simple violations on a strict liability basis, regardless of culpable mental state. Therefore, the Court concluded the Commission’s strict liability interpretation was correct. Affirmed. 

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