United States v. Elias

269 F.3d 1003 (2001)

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United States v. Elias

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
269 F.3d 1003 (2001)

  • Written by Tanya Munson, JD


Allen Elias (defendant) owned a fertilizer company in Idaho. In 1996, Elias decided to transfer sulfuric acid from two railroad cars into a 25,000-gallon tank Elias had used at his previous business. The tank was 36 feet long and 11 feet high and had been used as a storage tank for a cyanide-leaching process. There were two tons of sludge containing cyanide in the tank, and Elias decided to clean the tank out before storing sulfuric acid in it. Elias ordered four of his employees to enter the tank and wash out the sludge. Two workers entered the tank and cut a larger opening out of which they removed about one-third of the sludge. After about 45 minutes in the tank, one worker, Scott Dominguez, collapsed. After the other workers were unsuccessful at removing Dominguez from the tank, firefighters were able to extract Dominguez, who was in severe respiratory distress and in danger of dying. The fire chief asked Elias whether cyanide could have been in the tank, to which Elias responded that he only knew of mud and water to be in the tank. Elias repeated this when asked the same question by Dominguez’s physician at the hospital. Regardless, the physician treated Dominguez for cyanide poisoning, and Dominguez responded positively. Blood tests revealed extremely toxic levels of cyanide in Dominguez’s body. The United States (plaintiff) took waste samples from sludge located outside the tank and three feet into the tank that tested positive for cyanide. Elias was charged with violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). A jury convicted Elias of four violations of RCRA, the most serious of which was disposing of hazardous waste without a permit, knowing that his actions placed others in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury. Elias appealed, arguing that the substance disposed of should not have been considered hazardous waste because the United States presented no evidence that the samples it took from a three-foot radius inside the tank reflected the average properties of the entire tank.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Nelson, J.)

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