U.S. Supreme Court denies DeCosters’ prison sentence appeals

By: Rox Laird on May 22nd, 2017

Two executives of an Iowa-based egg production company apparently will serve time in federal prison for their part in the 2010 salmonella outbreak that resulted in nearly 2,000 reported illnesses and the recall of a half-million eggs.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied appeals of their federal prison sentences by Austin (“Jack”) DeCoster, the owner of Quality Egg, and his son Peter, the company’s chief operating officer.

Both DeCosters were sentenced to three months in federal prison and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine after they pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Sioux City to misdemeanor violations as “responsible corporate officers” under the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act.

The DeCosters appealed their sentences to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, arguing it would violate due process and be cruel and unusual to send them to prison.

While they acknowledged the company’s criminal violations for wrongdoing by employees, including falsifying inspection records, mislabeling expiration dates, and bribing a USDA inspector, the DeCosters argued that prison sentences were unconstitutional without evidence that they personally participated in the criminal violations or intended to violate the law.

A three-judge panel of the St. Louis-based Court of Appeals rejected those arguments. The panel (with one dissent) held that as responsible corporate officers the DeCosters were liable, not for the acts or omissions of other company employees, but rather for their own failure to act to prevent or remedy violations of the federal food-safety law.

On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Eighth Circuit without comment.

Amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs were filed with the Supreme Court in support of the DeCosters by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Washington Legal Foundation.

(See our earlier posts for more background on the DeCosters appeal.)

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
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