15 CFR 904.108 - Factors considered in assessing civil penalties.
(a) Factors to be taken into account in assessing a civil penalty, depending upon the statute in question, may include the nature, circumstances, extent, and gravity of the alleged violation; the respondent's degree of culpability, any history of prior violations, and ability to pay; and such other matters as justice may require.
(b) NOAA may, in consideration of a respondent's ability to pay, increase or decrease a civil penalty from an amount that would otherwise be warranted by the other relevant factors. A civil penalty may be increased if a respondent's ability to pay is such that a higher civil penalty is necessary to deter future violations, or for commercial violators, to make a civil penalty more than a cost of doing business. A civil penalty may be decreased if the respondent establishes that he or she is unable to pay an otherwise appropriate civil penalty amount.
(c) Except as provided in paragraph (g) of this section, if a respondent asserts that a civil penalty should be reduced because of an inability to pay, the respondent has the burden of proving such inability by providing verifiable, complete, and accurate financial information to NOAA. NOAA will not consider a respondent's inability to pay unless the respondent, upon request, submits such financial information as Agency counsel determines is adequate to evaluate the respondent's financial condition. Depending on the circumstances of the case, Agency counsel may require the respondent to complete a financial information request form, answer written interrogatories, or submit independent verification of his or her financial information. If the respondent does not submit the requested financial information, he or she will be presumed to have the ability to pay the civil penalty.
(d) Financial information relevant to a respondent's ability to pay includes but is not limited to, the value of respondent's cash and liquid assets; ability to borrow; net worth; liabilities; income tax returns; past, present, and future income; prior and anticipated profits; expected cash flow; and the respondent's ability to pay in installments over time. A respondent will be considered able to pay a civil penalty even if he or she must take such actions as pay in installments over time, borrow money, liquidate assets, or reorganize his or her business. NOAA's consideration of a respondent's ability to pay does not preclude an assessment of a civil penalty in an amount that would cause or contribute to the bankruptcy or other discontinuation of the respondent's business.
(e) Financial information regarding respondent's ability to pay should be submitted to Agency counsel as soon as possible after the receipt of the NOVA. If a respondent has requested a hearing on the violation alleged in the NOVA and wants the initial decision of the Judge to consider his or her inability to pay, verifiable, complete, and accurate financial information must be submitted to Agency counsel at least 30 days in advance of the hearing, except where the applicable statute expressly provides for a different time period. No information regarding the respondent's ability to pay submitted by the respondent less than 30 days in advance of the hearing will be admitted at the hearing or considered in the initial decision of the Judge, unless the Judge rules otherwise. If the Judge decides to admit any information related to the respondent's ability to pay submitted less than 30 days in advance of the hearing, Agency Counsel will have 30 days to respond to the submission from the date of admission. In deciding whether to submit such information, the respondent should keep in mind that the Judge may assess de novo a civil penalty either greater or smaller than that assessed in the NOVA.
(f) Issues regarding ability to pay will not be considered in an administrative review of an initial decision if the financial information was not previously presented by the respondent to the Judge prior to or at the hearing.
(g) Whenever a statute requires NOAA to take into consideration a respondent's ability to pay when assessing a civil penalty, NOAA will take into consideration information available to it concerning a respondent's ability to pay. In all cases, the NOVA will advise, in accordance with § 904.102, that the respondent may seek to have the civil penalty amount modified by Agency counsel on the basis that he or she does not have the ability to pay the civil penalty assessed. A request to have the civil penalty amount modified on this basis must be made in accordance with § 904.102 and should be accompanied by supporting financial information. Agency counsel may request that the respondent submit such additional verifiable, complete and accurate financial information as Agency counsel determines is necessary to evaluate the respondent's financial condition (such as by responding to a financial information request form or written interrogatories, or by authorizing independent verification of respondent's financial condition). A respondent's failure to provide the requested information may serve as the basis for inferring that such information would not have supported the respondent's assertion of inability to pay the civil penalty assessed in the NOVA.
(h) Whenever a statute requires NOAA to take into consideration a respondent's ability to pay when assessing a civil penalty and the respondent has requested a hearing on the violation alleged in the NOVA, the Agency must submit information on the respondent's financial condition so that the Judge may consider that information, along with any other factors required to be considered, in the Judge's de novo assessment of a civil penalty. Agency counsel may obtain such financial information through discovery procedures under § 904.240, or otherwise. A respondent's refusal or failure to respond to such discovery requests may serve as the basis for inferring that such information would have been adverse to any claim by respondent of inability to pay the assessed civil penalty, or result in respondent being barred from asserting financial hardship.