Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


decided: June 27, 1980.



Rehnquist, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Brennan, Stewart, White, and Powell, JJ., joined. Blackmun, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Marshall, J., joined, post, p. 255. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 257.

Author: Rehnquist

[ 448 U.S. Page 244]

 MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States seeks review of a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that a proceeding for the assessment of a "civil penalty" under § 311 (b)(6) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) is a "criminal case" within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against compulsory self-incrimination. We granted certiorari, 444 U.S. 939, and now reverse.


At the time this case arose,*fn1 § 311 (b)(3) of the FWPCA prohibited the discharge into navigable waters or onto adjoining shorelines of oil or hazardous substances in quantities determined by the President to be "harmful."*fn2 Section 311 (b)(5) of the Act imposed a duty upon "any person in charge of a vessel or of an onshore facility or an offshore facility" to report any discharge of oil or a hazardous substance into navigable waters to the "appropriate agency" of the United States Government. Should that person fail to supply such notification, he or she was liable to a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment of not more than one year. Section 311 (b)(5) also provided for a form of "use immunity," specifying that "[notification] received pursuant to this paragraph or information obtained by the exploitation of such notification shall not be used against any such person in any criminal case, except a prosecution for perjury or for giving a false statement." 33 U. S. C. § 1321 (b)(5).*fn3

[ 448 U.S. Page 245]

     Section 311 (b)(6) provided for the imposition of a "civil penalty" against "[any] owner or operator of any vessel, onshore facility, or offshore facility from which oil or a hazardous substance is discharged in violation" of the Act. In 1975, that subsection called for a penalty of up to $5,000 for each violation of the Act.*fn4 In assessing penalties, the Secretary of the appropriate agency was to take into account "the appropriateness of such penalty to the size of the business or of the owner or operator charged, the effect on the owner or operator's ability to continue in business, and the gravity of the violation. . . ." 33 U. S. C. § 1321 (b)(6).*fn5

[ 448 U.S. Page 246]

     According to § 311 (k) of the Act, funds collected from the assessment of penalties under § 311 (b)(6) were to be paid into a "revolving fund" together with "other funds received . . . under this section" and any money appropriated to the revolving fund by Congress. See 33 U. S. C. § 1321 (k). Money contained in this fund was to be used to finance the removal, containment, or dispersal of oil and hazardous substances discharged into navigable waters and to defray the costs of administering the Act. 33 U. S. C. § 1321 (l). Another section of the Act allowed the United States Government to collect the costs of removal, containment, or dispersal of a discharge from the person or corporation responsible for that discharge in cases where that person or corporation had been identified. 33 U. S. C. § 1321 (f).

On or about March 23, 1975, oil escaped from an oil retention pit at a drilling facility located near Enid, Okla., and eventually found its way into Boggie Creek, a tributary of the Arkansas River system.*fn6 At the time of the discharge, the premises were being leased by respondent L. O. Ward, who was doing business as L. O. Ward Oil & Gas Operations. On April 2, 1975, respondent Ward notified the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that a discharge of oil had taken place. Ward later submitted a more complete written report of the discharge, which was in turn forwarded to the Coast Guard, the agency responsible for assessing civil penalties under § 311 (b)(6).

After notice and opportunity for hearing, the Coast Guard assessed a civil penalty against respondent in the amount

[ 448 U.S. Page 247]

     of $500. Respondent filed an administrative appeal from this ruling, contending, inter alia, that the reporting requirements of § 311 (b)(5) of the Act violated his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination. The administrative appeal was denied.

On April 13, 1976, Ward filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, seeking to enjoin the Secretary of Transportation, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and the Administrator of EPA from enforcing §§ 311 (b)(5) and (6) and from collecting the penalty of $500. On June 4, 1976, the United States filed a separate suit in the same court to collect the unpaid penalty. The District Court eventually ordered the two suits consolidated for trial.

Prior to trial, the District Court rejected Ward's contention that the reporting requirements of § 311 (b)(5), as used to support a civil penalty under § 311 (b)(6), violated his right against compulsory self-incrimination. The case was tried to a jury, which found that Ward's facility did, in fact, spill oil into Boggie Creek. The District Court, however, reduced Ward's penalty to $250 because of the amount of oil that had spilled and because of its belief that Ward had been diligent in his attempts to clean up the discharge after it had been discovered.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed. Ward v. Coleman, 598 F.2d 1187 (1979). Although admitting that Congress had labeled the penalty provided for in § 311 (b)(6) as civil and that the use of funds collected under that section to finance the administration of the Act indicated a "remedial" purpose for the provision, the Court of Appeals tested the statutory scheme against the standards set forth in Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144, 168-169 (1963),*fn7 and held that § 311 (b)(6) was sufficiently

[ 448 U.S. Page 248]

     punitive to intrude upon the Fifth Amendment's protections against compulsory self-incrimination. It therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings in the collection suit.


The distinction between a civil penalty and a criminal penalty is of some constitutional import. The Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment, for example, is expressly limited to "any criminal case." Similarly, the protections provided by the Sixth Amendment are available only in "criminal prosecutions." Other constitutional protections, while not explicitly limited to one context or the other, have been so limited by decision of this Court. See, e. g., Helvering v. Mitchell, 303 U.S. 391, 399 (1938) (Double Jeopardy Clause protects only against two criminal punishments); United States v. Regan, 232 U.S. 37, 47-48 (1914) (proof beyond a reasonable doubt required only in criminal cases).

This Court has often stated that the question whether a particular statutorily defined penalty is civil or criminal is a matter of statutory construction. See, e. g., One Lot Emerald Cut Stones v. United States, 409 U.S. 232, 237 (1972); Helvering v. Mitchell, supra, at 399. Our inquiry in this regard has traditionally proceeded on two levels. First, we have set out to determine whether Congress, in establishing the penalizing mechanism, indicated either expressly or impliedly a preference for one label or the other. See One Lot Emerald Cut Stones v. United States, ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.