On July 27, 2015, WLF asked the Eighth Circuit to overturn a district court decision that would impose a term of imprisonment on two executives of Quality Egg LLC under the “responsible corporate officer” (RCO) doctrine—a rare instance of strict supervisory liability in the criminal law. In a brief filed in the case, WLF argued that although the Supreme Court has sanctioned the imposition of strict criminal liability in the absence of mens rea in the narrow category of public welfare offenses, it has done so only with the understanding that penalties imposed in such cases will be relatively small and the conviction will not gravely damage defendant’s reputation. The government’s position in this appeal, WLF contended, asks the appeals court to expand such strict supervisory liability far beyond the constitutional bounds the Supreme Court first articulated when adopting the RCO doctrine over seventy years ago.
Here's a link to WLF's brief.
UCLA SJD alum Martin Petrin has the leading article on the RCO doctrine:
The recent oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and ensuing questions of accountability have brought a controversial legal tool to the forefront, the “responsible corporate officer doctrine.” This doctrine allows courts to hold individuals that exercise control over business policies or activities personally liable for failing to prevent statutory offenses by subordinates, even if they themselves were not aware of any wrongdoing.
For corporate officials, the RCO doctrine is dangerous because of its ability to sidestep the usual requirements that apply to holding corporate agents responsible. Moreover, from their viewpoint, the doctrine is troubling in that it extends statutory duties of legal entities to their “responsible corporate officers” as an additional class of defendants. Examined from a broader perspective, the RCO doctrine may also result in additional costs, contribute to overdeterrence, and undermine the notion of limited liability.
This Article explains how the RCO doctrine runs contrary to established tort, criminal, and corporate law principles and why it represents an unwarranted augmentation of corporate agents’ duties. It then proceeds to explain that current justifications of the doctrine are not convincing and explores the doctrine’s negative effects. Finally, the Article advances the idea of a “cautious approach” to applying the RCO doctrine, arguing that legislatures and courts should reduce the RCO doctrine to rare and clearly delineated instances of statutory liability for intentional or knowing misconduct.
Petrin, Martin, Circumscribing the ‘Prosecutor’s Ticket to Tag the Elite’ – A Critique of the Responsible Corporate Officer Doctrine (2012). Temple Law Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, p. 283, Winter 2012. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1808344