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The responsible corporate officer doctrine is an accepted basis of liability under many federal statutes, holding individual high-ranking corporate officers criminally or civilly liable for corporate actions or omissions that violate federal law. The doctrine is a blend of statutory and common law, where legislation sets out the underlying framework that courts use to extend and develop the doctrine. Although several federal statutes incorporate the doctrine, it is particularly well developed under federal environmental statutes and has been a potent tool for federal environmental enforcement for over half a century. Indeed, the doctrine acts as a practical means of achieving remediation in situations that would otherwise lack recourse. But states have been slower to adopt the doctrine; only a handful recognize it in the civil environmental context. As a result, the state-level doctrine is often underutilized and consequently lacks academic attention. This Article fills that gap by examining the responsible corporate officer doctrine in its state environmental forms. The Article first traces the doctrine’s federal development and illustrates its role in federal environmental enforcement. It then turns to the doctrine’s nascent but limited development in state courts and argues that the state environmental responsible corporate officer doctrines lack cohesion, clarity, and legitimacy. Building on those observations, this Article then asserts the need to revitalize the state environmental forms of the doctrine and center it on four goals: (1) individual civil liability; (2) liability without a mens rea requirement; (3) uniformity; and (4) broad enforceability. Lastly, this Article looks to two states—Massachusetts and Oregon—as case studies for how a newly revitalized doctrine could be applied.


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27 Feb 2023
660 kB



  • Subject
    • Business Organizations Law

    • Environmental Law

    • State and Local Government Law

  • Journal title
    • Boston College Law Review

  • Volume
    • 64

  • Issue
    • 2

  • Pagination
    • 254-307

  • Date submitted

    27 February 2023

  • Official Link