This blog previously reported the $4,073,000 fine imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) on Epsilon Electronics for selling automobile stereo equipment to a company in the UAE that resold the items to Iran. OFAC documents indicated that the reseller’s website made clear that it only sold its products to Iran, that Epsilon had attempted to conceal its dealings with Iran by eliminating a web page showing its products and labelled Iran, and that Epsilon under a prior business name had shipped a monitor to Iran for which it had received a cautionary letter from OFAC.
Epsilon has now filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the fine, alleging, among other things, that the fine violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Epsilon is invoking specifically the language in the Eighth Amendment which prohibits “Excessive Fines” from being imposed. It’s an odd claim given the Supreme Court’s statement in Browning-Ferris Industries v. Kelco Disposal, 492 U.S. 257 (1989), one of the Supreme Court’s few cases on the Excessive Fines clause, that the amendment “places limits on the steps a government may take against an individual.” No court, to my knowledge, has applied the clause to a civil penalty against a corporation. And, even if a court decided to apply the clause to a corporate fine, the principal of proportionality embodied by the clause would not likely be offended by a $4 million fine for the shipment of $3.5 million in goods to Iran.
The complaint further claims that OFAC properly failed to consider mitigating circumstances, namely that Epsilon had no idea that its distributor was shipping to Iran and engaged in no acts of concealment. The complaint includes as exhibits the OFAC documents stating Epsilon knew, or had reason to know, that all of its distributor’s business was conducted solely with Iran and that Epsilon had removed a web page on its site associating its products with Iran. So it is more than a little odd, given that a reviewing court is going to give a great deal of deference to the findings of the agency under review, that the complaint makes these claims without even attempting to address these unfavorable findings by OFAC clearly set forth in the complaint’s own exhibits.
I said in my original post that, as a matter of policy, I thought OFAC had better things to worry about than pimped out cars cruising the streets of Tehran. But, sadly, I don’t think this complaint has the firepower to convince a court to force OFAC to spend more time on centrifuges and less on subwoofers.