Supreme Judicial Court (May 19, 2010)

A corporation may not be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter under c. 265, §13 based upon a theory of collective knowledge and conduct of multiple employees, in the absence of one specific employee who is criminally liable.

The victim was a resident of the defendant nursing home for a number of years. After attempting to leave the facility on multiple occasions, she was ordered by the treating physicians to wear a "WanderGuard" signaling device which would alert staff when she approached an exit. Due to the multiple negligent acts of different employees, the order had been removed from the victim's paperwork and a substitute nurse for the day allowed the victim near the front entrance. She attempted to leave the facility in a wheelchair, fell down a stairway, and died. A grand jury indicted the defendant corporation on charges of involuntary manslaughter, and abuse, neglect, or mistreatment of a resident of a long-term care facility under c. 265, §38 (now repealed), among other charges. Both parties recognized that this aggregate theory of corporate criminal liability had not been recognized under Massachusetts Law and pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 34, the judge reported the question to the Appeals Court and the SJC granted the defendant's application for direct appellate review.

The SJC held that pursuant to established law, a corporation acts with a given mental state in a criminal context only if at least one employee who acts (or fails to act) possesses the requisite mental state at the time of the act (or failure to act). The Commonwealth may not seek to satisfy its burden to prove wanton or reckless conduct (a required element for involuntary manslaughter) on the part of a corporate defendant by adding together the actions and omissions of corporate employees who at worst have been merely negligent. "Such aggregation is not supported by logic or law . . . [and may raise] due process concerns."