Court Backs Jail Time for Egg Executives in Salmonella Case

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -
This composite photo shows Quality Egg LLC owner Austin "Jack" DeCoster, left, and its chief operating officer, Peter DeCoster. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, file)
This composite photo shows Quality Egg LLC owner Austin “Jack” DeCoster, left, and its chief operating officer, Peter DeCoster. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, file)

A federal appellate court has upheld jail sentences for two egg-industry executives whose Iowa company caused a nationwide salmonella outbreak in 2010.

In a long-awaited decision, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday backed the three-month jail sentences issued last year to Austin “Jack” DeCoster and son Peter DeCoster.

U.S. District Judge Mark Bennett sentenced them last year, citing a “litany of shameful conduct” that happened at their large egg production company. But Bennett allowed them their freedom while they appealed the sentences, which the DeCosters argued were unconstitutional and unreasonable for the misdemeanor crimes to which they pleaded guilty.

Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, took up their cause.

But in a 2-1 decision, an appeals panel ruled that the DeCosters “are liable for negligently failing to prevent the salmonella outbreak” and that jail time is appropriate.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked 1,939 illnesses to the outbreak, but officials estimate that up to 56,000 people may have been sickened. Investigators argued the DeCosters knew their Iowa egg facilities were at risk for salmonella contamination before the outbreak.

Dissenting Judge C. Arlen Beam said the government failed to prove the DeCosters had intent or were even negligent, and therefore they should not face jail time.