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Law School Case Brief

People v. Taylor - 7 Cal. App. 4th 677, 9 Cal. Rptr. 2d 227 (1992)

Rule:

Cal. Health & Safety Code § 25189.5(a) defines a crime of commission, not omission. Cal. Health & Safety Code § 25189.5(a) prohibits improper "disposal," an affirmative act which is committed even if the act which is committed is disposal by abandonment.

Facts:

From 1976 until the end of 1985, defendant Larry Taylor and one Thomas Campbell were the primary owner/operators of a small company that manufactured printed circuit boards. The nature of the manufacturing business was such that various baths and rinses of acids, solvents and other chemical solutions were used to clean, etch and/or plate the circuit boards. After extended use in the manufacturing process, these various solutions would be reduced to liquid, toxic waste products containing, among other things, hazardous concentrations of copper and lead. Typically, those waste products which could not be chemically "neutralized" and disposed of in the municipal sewer system were placed in sealed drums, labelled and stored outside on the leased premises of the manufacturing facility in a fenced-in area until such time as the company would pay an authorized hazardous waste hauler to remove the drums and transport them to a hazardous waste dump site. In 1986, a county environmental health specialist inspected the company's facilities and noted the existence of chemical contamination and staining of the premises' floors, walls and floor trenches. By the time the defendant closed down the business and left the premises, the specialist re-inspected the area and found almost 200 drums, of various sizes, containing "spent" hazardous liquid wastes stored outside in the fenced-in storage area. Fewer than one-fourth of the drums were properly labelled with hazardous waste labels. The People filed a criminal complaint against defendant and Campbell, which complaint alleged that the two named defendants had violated section 25189.5(a) by "knowingly disposing or causing the disposal of any hazardous waste, to wit: lead and copper at a facility which did not have a permit issued by the Department of Health Services." In 1990, defendant filed a motion to set aside the People's information pursuant to section 995 of the Penal Code, arguing that he could not be said to have "disposed" of any hazardous materials, as the meaning of that word is commonly understood, and that, if "disposed" is given some other meaning, the statute fails to meet constitutional muster by failing to clearly put persons on notice as to what conduct is being prohibited. The trial court granted defendant's motion to set aside the information, holding that the word "disposing" in the statute requires movement of waste to some location other than the premises on which it was created; and since the hazardous waste was still found in the premises on which it was created, no disposition existed. The People appealed from the dismissal of their action, arguing that the trial court had misinterpreted section 25189.5(a).

Issue:

Does the word “disposing” in Cal. Health & Safety Code § 25189.5(a) require movement of waste to some location other than the premises on which it was created?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the word “disposal” in the statute in question includes abandonment, and abandonment is not limited to dumping or dropping hazardous waste elsewhere, but includes the permanent and intentional surrendering of dominion and control over that waste, even though the waste may have been properly stored prior to abandonment; as such, the Court concluded that the trial court erred in granting defendant’s motion to set aside the information.

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