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Food Law Casebook

Hall-Baker Grain Co. v. United States

Criminal Intent. The charges brought against Hall-Baker Grain Co. were criminal charges. At issue in this case is what level of intent on the part of the defendants must the government establish at trial in order to sustain a conviction. Although ours is not a class in criminal law, a brief discussion may be useful. For most crimes, a criminal conviction requires establishing actus rea and mens mea, a guilty act and a guilty mind. In the main, the government must show that a defendant had the necessary intent, the right mens rea. Different crimes require different levels of intent, but there are five typical possibilities: (1) Purpose—the defendant had a purpose to bring about the harm; (2) Knowledge—the defendant knew to a substantial certainty that an act would result in the harm; (3) Reckless—the defendant was aware of a substantial risk that harm would result form the act, but did so anyway; (4) Negligence—the defendant knew or should have known that there was a risk of harm and did not avoid it. Other crimes are known as strict liability crimes, for which no showing of intent or mens rea is required. Particularly early in the evolution of food and drug law, some crimes involving food or drugs were initially treated as strict liability crimes. The question for the Eight Circuit was thus, whether misbranding and adulteration under the PFDA were to be treated as ordinary or strict liability crimes.Chain of Custody. Hall-Baker Grain presents a very common shipping scenario. Goods are stored in one location, ordered from a buyer from a shipper, who notifies the storage facility, who packs and then ships the goods. Along the way, there are many opportunities for fraud of various sorts. Lower quality goods can be mixed with higher quality goods. Volume can be manipulated such that a buyer receives less of a high quality good than expected. High quality goods can be replaced by low quality goods by a shipper or a middleman. And so on and so on.   Note that the grain industry had a particular way of managing such problems, partially involving government inspectors at the point of shipment and receipt. Why is the market unable to solve this basic problem of fraud and verification?Least Cost Avoider. A standard concept in law and economics is the least cost avoider (or cheapest cost avoider). The least cost avoider is the person or actor who can most easily avoid a harm. One prominent theory is that the law should impose liability on the least cost avoider precisely because they are best situated to avoid a harm. Who is the least cost avoider in this case and does decision of the Eight Circuit impose liability on them?Civil v. Criminal. Not that the same rule may not apply to civil and criminal settings. Even if there is no criminal liability for the company because there was not mens rea demonstrated, it may still be that there is civil liability for the delivery of misbranded goods. After all, the buyer paid for one thing and received another thing of lesser value. Does the decision make misbranding more or less likely then? Are you confident?  1. Just a trial note to check location.