Com. v. Godin

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBefore HENNESSEY; LIACOS
Citation374 Mass. 120,371 N.E.2d 438
Decision Date29 December 1977

Page 438

371 N.E.2d 438
374 Mass. 120
COMMONWEALTH

v.
Edmund J. GODIN.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Plymouth.
Argued Jan. 3, 1977.
Decided Dec. 29, 1977.

Page 440

[374 Mass. 121] Morris M. Goldings, Boston (Kenneth H. Tatarian, Boston, with him), for defendant.

Helen M. Doona, Asst. Dist. Atty., for the Commonwealth.

Before [374 Mass. 120] HENNESSEY, C. J., and QUIRICO, KAPLAN, WILKINS and LIACOS, JJ.

[374 Mass. 121] LIACOS, Justice.

On March 30, 1972, an explosion occurred in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, at a manufacturing plant housing Pyro Products, Inc., a corporation engaged in the manufacture of fireworks. As a result of that explosion, three employees of the corporation were mortally wounded. The grand jury handed up three indictments which charged [374 Mass. 122] that the defendant committed manslaughter by causing the deaths of the three employees. After jury verdicts against the defendant he was sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord. A notice of appeal was filed with the Appeals Court and we granted the defendant's application for direct appellate review. We find no error.

The assignments of error which have been argued concern (1) the adequacy of the indictments charging the defendant; (2) the admission of certain evidence; (3) the judge's failure to direct verdicts in the defendant's favor; and (4) the propriety of the judge's instructions to the jury. We state the facts in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth. Commonwealth v. Sandler, 369 Mass. ---, --- a, 335 N.E.2d 903 (1975).

The defendant was president of Pyro Products, Inc. The corporation was duly licensed under both the State and local laws and had all bonds and permits required by law to operate a fireworks manufacturing company. The judge below ruled the corporation did not have to comply with the fire safety regulations issued pursuant to G.L. c. 148, § 13, as amended through St.1945, c. 710, §§ 5-8, as it had begun operation prior to the effective date of the statute and was, therefore, exempt from complying with its provisions.

The plant itself was a complex of some twenty-one separate buildings. Buildings two and three were the locations of the initial stages of manufacture. Building seven was the building where the insertion of fuses and other matter necessary for the fireworks to lift off was accomplished, as well as where a process known as drying took place. Building eight was for shipping, and buildings nine through eighteen were evidently storage buildings. The process of manufacture began in building two with the rolling of the tubes for the fireworks, and the processing of black powder. The "flash," which gives the fireworks their multi-colored luminescence was manufactured in building five and loaded into the tubes at building two.

[374 Mass. 123] Of particular import is the process which took place in building number seven, the building in which all three decedents were working at the time of the explosion. That building was used primarily for drying the completed fireworks. At the time of the accident two other functions took place therein; the finishing off of the fireworks by putting the final required wrappings around the tubes and the insertion of so-called lifting charges. Lifting charges were the power source which enabled the fireworks to reach their desired altitude for

Page 441

detonation. A secondary use of building seven at the time of the explosion was to store a great number of uncompleted fireworks. These uncompleted fireworks had accumulated because of a strike which forestalled completion of partially manufactured fireworks. The strike lasted from September, 1971, until the beginning of 1972.

There was evidence from which the jury could conclude that prior to the end of the strike no more than 1,000 to 1,500 fireworks were stored in building seven, but after the end of the strike and up to and including the time of the explosion, approximately 4,000 to 5,000 shells were stored there. There was evidence from which the jury could conclude that the storage of large numbers of unfinished shells in the building severely limited and hampered the ability of those persons involved in the manufacturing process to move about and do their job without undue difficulty. Several employees worked in building seven in proximity to completed and uncompleted shells in boxes in an area described as "congested" by the presence of such boxes. There was evidence to indicate the defendant had been warned by employees on separate occasions about the danger possibly resulting from the excess accumulation.

About 9:35 A.M., on March 30, 1972, an explosion rocked the compound. Of the employees working there at the time several were injured. Three were killed. The jury could have concluded that the explosion originated in building seven and caused other explosions and damage at nearby buildings. The dismembered bodies of the decedents were [374 Mass. 124] found outdoors near building seven. Photographs of the scene after the explosion, which were before the jury as part of the Commonwealth's case, depict a scene of almost total devastation.

As part of the case and over the exception of the defendant as to his qualifications, an expert witness testified for the Commonwealth that there was a hazard involved in storing the amount and weight (16,000 pounds) of fireworks stored in the building at the time of the explosion. The hazard consisted of both the increased likelihood of an accident occurring and the greater extent of probable damage which would occur in the event of an accident. While the expert witness was unable to state an opinion as to the source of ignition, in response to a hypothetical question he did state that friction could cause the shells to ignite. He testified that the amount of damage resulting from an explosion of 16,000 pounds of fireworks would be far more extensive than would the damage resulting from an explosion of a substantially lesser amount; namely, that such an explosion probably would completely level the building in which the fireworks were stored. Also, the expert testified that such an explosion would cause secondary damage to any adjacent buildings, and, should there be combustible materials in those other buildings, those materials would be susceptible to ignition by the blast.

This was the sum of the evidence viewed most favorably to the Commonwealth. We consider the defendant's claims of error.

1. Sufficiency of the Indictments.

The defendant challenges the sufficiency of the indictments on two grounds. First, he argues that their material allegations fail to set forth a crime under the law of Massachusetts as it was on the day of the explosion. Second, he argues that the indictments do not "fully and plainly, substantially and formally" describe the crime as required by both art. 12 of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

[374 Mass. 125] (a) The indictments alleged to contain these fatal flaws state in each instance in material part that Pyro Products, Inc., "was under a legal duty to its employees to use reasonable care to keep its premises safe for their use in their employment"; that the defendant "was . . . authorized by the corporation to maintain, control, operate, construct, alter, supervise and manage its premises"; that he "accepted the responsibility for such acts," and "was therefore under a duty to its employees to use such

Page 442

reasonable care," but "in reckless disregard of such duty" to each decedent employee and in "reckless disregard of the probable harmful consequences" to such employee "of his failure to perform said duty," he "did wilfully, wantonly and recklessly neglect and fail to fulfil" his duty to each of the three decedents and as a result "did assault and beat said (decedent) and by such assault and beating did kill said (decedent)."

The defendant's primary argument in respect to the alleged insufficiency of the indictments is that no decision of this court up to the time of the explosion set forth, in respect to criminal law, the rule that an employer owed his employees a duty of reasonable care in the operation and maintenance of the place of employment. Consequently, it is claimed the indictments do not set forth the crime of manslaughter.

Both parties to this appeal recognize the landmark case respecting the determination of this and other related issues to be Commonwealth v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 55 N.E.2d 902 (1944). That case involved the tragic fire at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston in 1942. The defendant, the president and dominant figure of the corporation which owned the club, was indicted for the crime of manslaughter, based on material allegations closely resembling those in the case at bar. The defendant concedes this similarity but points to one difference that he alleges is crucial. Whereas the indictments in this case alleged that the defendant owed a duty of reasonable care to an employee, the indictments in Welansky alleged the existence of that duty in respect to invitees. Moreover, the defendant points to a footnote in Welansky [374 Mass....

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44 practice notes
  • Com. v. Cass
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 16, 1984
    ...67 L.Ed.2d 360 (1981) (the infliction of injuries resulting in death after more than a year and a day is murder); Commonwealth v. Godin, 374 Mass. 120, 126-127, 371 N.E.2d 438 (1977), cert. denied, 436 U.S. 917, 98 S.Ct. 2263, 56 L.Ed.2d 758 (1978) (an employer's disregard for probable loss......
  • LaClair v. Silberline Mfg. Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 21, 1979
    ...12 Negligence in this regard may also carry criminal implications. See Commonwealth v. Godin, --- Mass. --- (Mass.Adv.Sh. (1977) 2790), 371 N.E.2d 438 (1977). c. Mass.Adv.Sh. (1979) 940, 944. d. Mass.Adv.Sh. (1978) 1867, 1873. e. Mass.Adv.Sh. (1978) 1857. f. Mass.Adv.Sh. (1978) at 1873. g. ......
  • Com. v. Michaud
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • December 2, 1982
    ...and Norman's inaction in light of Rita's condition created a "substantial and unjustifiable risk" of her death. Commonwealth v. Godin, 374 Mass. 120, 130, 371 N.E.2d 438 The Commonwealth was required to prove far more than a mistake in judgment or a high degree of negligence. Wanton and rec......
  • Com. v. Twitchell
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 11, 1993
    ...him as to be wanton or reckless conduct. Commonwealth v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 399, 55 N.E.2d 902 (1944). See Commonwealth v. Godin, 374 Mass. 120, 129, 371 N.E.2d 438 (1977), cert. denied, 436 U.S. 917, 98 S.Ct. 2263, 56 L.Ed.2d 758 (1978). Our definition of involuntary manslaughter der......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
44 cases
  • Com. v. Cass
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 16, 1984
    ...67 L.Ed.2d 360 (1981) (the infliction of injuries resulting in death after more than a year and a day is murder); Commonwealth v. Godin, 374 Mass. 120, 126-127, 371 N.E.2d 438 (1977), cert. denied, 436 U.S. 917, 98 S.Ct. 2263, 56 L.Ed.2d 758 (1978) (an employer's disregard for probable loss......
  • LaClair v. Silberline Mfg. Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 21, 1979
    ...12 Negligence in this regard may also carry criminal implications. See Commonwealth v. Godin, --- Mass. --- (Mass.Adv.Sh. (1977) 2790), 371 N.E.2d 438 (1977). c. Mass.Adv.Sh. (1979) 940, 944. d. Mass.Adv.Sh. (1978) 1867, 1873. e. Mass.Adv.Sh. (1978) 1857. f. Mass.Adv.Sh. (1978) at 1873. g. ......
  • Com. v. Michaud
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • December 2, 1982
    ...and Norman's inaction in light of Rita's condition created a "substantial and unjustifiable risk" of her death. Commonwealth v. Godin, 374 Mass. 120, 130, 371 N.E.2d 438 The Commonwealth was required to prove far more than a mistake in judgment or a high degree of negligence. Wanton and rec......
  • Com. v. Twitchell
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 11, 1993
    ...him as to be wanton or reckless conduct. Commonwealth v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 399, 55 N.E.2d 902 (1944). See Commonwealth v. Godin, 374 Mass. 120, 129, 371 N.E.2d 438 (1977), cert. denied, 436 U.S. 917, 98 S.Ct. 2263, 56 L.Ed.2d 758 (1978). Our definition of involuntary manslaughter der......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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