Commonwealth v. Welansky

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtLUMMUS
Citation316 Mass. 383,55 N.E.2d 902
Decision Date05 June 1944
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. WELANSKY.

316 Mass. 383
55 N.E.2d 902

COMMONWEALTH
v.
WELANSKY.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.

June 5, 1944.


Barnett Welansky was convicted of manslaughter under two different indictments, and he appeals.

Judgments affirmed.

[55 N.E.2d 904]

Appeal from Superior Court, Suffolk County; Hurley, Judge.

Before FIELD, C. J., LUMMUS, QUA, DOLAN, RONAN, and SPAULDING, JJ.

F. T. Doyle, Asst. Dist. Atty., and J. K. Collins and A. H. Salisbury, Asst. Dist. Attys., all of Boston, for the Commonwealth.


D. J. Gallagher, H. F. Callahan, E. M. Dangel, A. C. Webber, and T. N. Creed, all of Boston, for defendant.

LUMMUS, Justice.

On November 28, 1942, and for about nine years before that day, a corporation named New Cocoanut Grove, Inc., maintained and operated a ‘night club’ in Boston, having an entrance at 17 Piedmont Street, for the furnishing to the public for compensation of food, drink and entertainment, consisting of orchestra and band music, singing and dancing. It employed about eighty persons. The corporation, its officers and employees, and its business, were completely dominated by the defendant Barnett Welansky, who is called in this opinion simply the defendant, since his codefendants were acquitted by the jury. He owned, and held in his own name or in the names of others, all the capital stock. He leased some of the land on which the corporate business was carried on, and owned the rest, although title was held for him by his sister. He was entitled to, and took, all the profits. Internally, the corporation was operated without regard to corporate forms, as though the business were that of the defendant as an individual. It was not shown that responsibility for the number or condition of safety exits had been delegated by the defendant to any employee or other person.

The defendant was accustomed to spend his evenings at the night club, inspecting the premises and superintending the business. On November 16, 1942, he became suddenly ill, and was carried to a hospital, where he was in bed for three weeks and remained until discharged on December 11, 1942. During his stay at the hospital, although employees visited him there, he did not concern himself with the night club, because, as he testified, he ‘knew it would be all right’ and that ‘the same system * * * [he] had would

[55 N.E.2d 905]

continue’ during his absence. There is no evidence of any act, omission or condition at the night club on November 28, 1942 (apart from the lighting of a match hereinafter described), that was not within the usual and regular practice during the time before the defendant was taken ill when he was at the night club nearly every evening. While the defendant was at the hospital, his brother James Welansky and an employee named Jacob Goldfine, who were made codefendants, assumed some of the defendant's duties at the night club, but made no change in methods. Under these circumstances the defendant was not entitled to a verdict of not guilty on the ground that any acts or omissions on the evening of November 28, 1942, were the transitory and unauthorized acts or omissions of servants or other persons, for which the defendant could not be held criminally responsible. Commonwealth v. Stevens, 153 Mass. 421, 26 N.E. 992,11 L.R.A. 357, 25 Am.St.Rep. 647;Commonwealth v. Anthony, 306 Mass. 470, 478, 28 N.E.2d 542.

The physical arrangement of the night club on November 28, 1942, as well as on November 16, 1942, when the defendant last had personal knowledge of it, was as follows. The total area of the first or street floor was nine thousand seven hundred sixty-three square feet. Entering the night club through a single revolving door at 17 Piedmont Street, one found himself in a foyer or hall having an area of six hundred six square feet. From the foyer, there was access to small rooms used as toilets, to a powder room and a telephone room, to a small room for the checking of clothing, and to another room with a vestibule about five feet by six feet in size adjoining it, both of which were used as an office in the daytime and for the checking of clothing in the evening. In the front corner of the foyer, to the left, beyond the office, was a passageway leading to a stairway about four feet wide, with fifteen risers. That stairway led down to the Melody Lounge in the basement, which was the only room in the basement open to the public. There were to be found a bar, tables and chairs.

The extreme dimensions of the Melody Lounge were about thirty-six feet by fifty-five feet, and its area was one thousand eight hundred ninety-five square feet. It was separated from a narrow corridor leading to the kitchen (which was located under the main dining room) by a wooden partition. In that partition was a wooden door, two feet and two inches wide, which could have been found to be unmarked. Passing from the Melody Lounge through that door, and thus entering the narrow corridor, one could turn to the left and go to a door which swung inward and could be opened only to a width of eighteen inches, at the top of three steps. That door was barred by a wooden bar that had to be lifted off before the door could be opened at all. On opening that door, one could pass into an outdoor alley about three and one-half feet wide. That alley led to a yard, from which egress could be had through in-swinging doors into another passageway and thence to Shawmut Street.

If, instead, one passing from the Melody Lounge into the narrow corridor should turn to the right, he might pass, as employees were accustomed to do, through a door two and one half feet wide swinging into the corridor from the kitchen. Once in the kitchen, he could traverse that room with all its equipment to the other end of it near Shawmut Street, and then go upstairs and through swinging doors into a corner of the main dining room.

It is evident that in an emergency escape from the Melody Lounge by either of these courses would be difficult for a patron not thoroughly familiar with parts of the premises not ordinarily open to him.

Returning to the foyer, and standing as though one had just entered it by the revolving door, to the right, in the front of the building on Piedmont Street, was a room called the Caricature Bar, with an area of one thousand three hundred ninety-nine square feet, containing two bars, stools and chairs. Toward Shawmut Street, and separated from the Caricature Bar by a railing, was the main dining room, with an area of three thousand seven hundred sixty-five square feet. The foyer opened into both the Caricature Bar and the main dining room. In the main dining room was a dance floor with an area of six hundred sixty square feet, and behind it, in the direction of Broadway, was a stage with an area of four hundred thirty-six square feet.

From the Caricature Bar and from the main dining room one could pass into a corridor near the stage, about four feet wide, up some steps, and through a passageway about seven feet wide into the new Cocktail Lounge, which was first opened on November 17, 1942, and which had an area

[55 N.E.2d 906]

of seven hundred eighty-one square feet. There one found a bar, stools, tables and seats, and also a check room and toilets. In the farther corner of the Cocktail Lounge was a door three feet wide, swinging inward, through which one could enter a small vestibule from which he could go through a pair of doors to Broadway at 59 Broadway.

That pair of doors, and the revolving door at 17 Piedmont Street, were the only entrances and exits intended for the ordinary use of patrons. Besides these doors, and the exit through the wooden partition from the Melody Lounge, already described, there were five possible emergency exits from the night club, all on the first or street floor. These will now be listed and described.

(1) A door, opening outward to Piedmont Street, two and one-half feet wide, at the head of the stairway leading to and from the basement Melody Lounge. That door apparently was not visible from the greater part of the foyer, for it was in a passageway that ran from one end of the foyer past the office to the stairway. That door was marked ‘Exit’ by an electric sign. It was equipped with a ‘panic’ or ‘crash’ bar, intended to unbolt and open the door upon pressure from within the building. But on the evidence it could have been found that the device just mentioned was regularly made ineffective by having the door locked by a separate lock operated by a key that was kept in a desk in the office. Late in the evening of November 28, 1942, firemen found that door locked and had to force it open with an axe. The jury were entitled to disbelieve the testimony of the defendant that he had instructed the head waiter, who died in the occurrence of that evening, always to keep that door unlocked. It may be observed that if that door should be left so that it could be opened by means of the panic bar, a patron might leave through that door without paying his bill. It does not appear that anyone watched that door to prevent patrons from so doing.

(2) A door two and one-third feet wide leading from the foyer, near the revolving door, into the small vestibule adjoining the office, already described. From that vestibule another similar door, swinging inward, gave egress to Piedmont Street, near the revolving door. The door to Piedmont Street could not be opened fully, because of a wall shelf. And that door was commonly barred in the evening, as it was on November 28, 1942, by a removable board with clothing hooks on it, and by clothing, for in the evening the office and vestibule were used for checking clothing.

(3) A door, opening outward, from the middle of the wall of the main dining room to Shawmut Street, and marked ‘Exit’ by an electric sign. The opening was about three and two-thirds feet wide. The defendant testified that this was the principal exit provided for emergencies. From the sides of the opening hung double doors, equipped with...

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272 practice notes
  • United States v. Williams, Criminal No. 09-0026 (PLF)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • January 8, 2019
    ...of a building, New Jersey v. Ireland, 126 N.J.L. 444, 20 A.2d 69, 70 (1941), and overcrowding of a nightclub, Massachusetts v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 55 N.E.2d 902, 912 (1944).See United States v. Key, 599 F.3d 469, 479 (5th Cir. 2010). Involuntary manslaughter under Section 1112(a) thus ......
  • United States v. Voisine, Nos. 12–1213
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • January 30, 2015
    ...chosen to run the risk rather than alter his conduct so as to avoid the act or omission which caused the harm.” Commonwealth v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 55 N.E.2d 902, 910 (Mass.1944) (internal quotation marks New Hampshire “ ‘Recklessly.’ A person acts recklessly with respect to a material......
  • Farmer v. Brennan, No. 92-7247.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 6, 1994
    ...as hepatitis and venereal disease "even though the possible infection might not affect all of those exposed"); Commonwealth v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 55 N. E. 2d 902 (1944) (affirming conviction for manslaughter under a law requiring reckless or wanton conduct of a nightclub owner who fai......
  • Bennett v. United States, No. 16-2039
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • July 5, 2017
    ...or omission which caused the harm."Commonwealth v. Pugh , 462 Mass. 482, 969 N.E.2d 672, 685 (2012) (quoting Commonwealth v. Welansky , 316 Mass. 383, 55 N.E.2d 902, 902 (1944) ) (alterations in original).11 Section 922(g)(9) provides that it is "unlawful for any person ... who has been con......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
280 cases
  • United States v. Williams, Criminal No. 09-0026 (PLF)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • January 8, 2019
    ...of a building, New Jersey v. Ireland, 126 N.J.L. 444, 20 A.2d 69, 70 (1941), and overcrowding of a nightclub, Massachusetts v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 55 N.E.2d 902, 912 (1944).See United States v. Key, 599 F.3d 469, 479 (5th Cir. 2010). Involuntary manslaughter under Section 1112(a) thus ......
  • United States v. Voisine, Nos. 12–1213
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • January 30, 2015
    ...chosen to run the risk rather than alter his conduct so as to avoid the act or omission which caused the harm.” Commonwealth v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 55 N.E.2d 902, 910 (Mass.1944) (internal quotation marks New Hampshire “ ‘Recklessly.’ A person acts recklessly with respect to a material......
  • Farmer v. Brennan, No. 92-7247.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 6, 1994
    ...as hepatitis and venereal disease "even though the possible infection might not affect all of those exposed"); Commonwealth v. Welansky, 316 Mass. 383, 55 N. E. 2d 902 (1944) (affirming conviction for manslaughter under a law requiring reckless or wanton conduct of a nightclub owner who fai......
  • Bennett v. United States, No. 16-2039
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • July 5, 2017
    ...or omission which caused the harm."Commonwealth v. Pugh , 462 Mass. 482, 969 N.E.2d 672, 685 (2012) (quoting Commonwealth v. Welansky , 316 Mass. 383, 55 N.E.2d 902, 902 (1944) ) (alterations in original).11 Section 922(g)(9) provides that it is "unlawful for any person ... who has been con......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Fitting the Model Penal Code into a Reasons-Responsiveness Picture of Culpability.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 4, February 2022
    • February 1, 2022
    ...and the Limits of Evil: Variations on a Strawsonian Theme, in PERSPECTIVES ON MORAL RESPONSIBILITY, supra note 24, at 119, 131-43. (56.) 55 N.E.2d 902 (Mass. (57.) No. 27-CR-20-12646, 2021 WL 1559176 (Minn. Dist. Ct. Apr. 20, 2021) (verdict as to Count III), appeal docketed, No. A21-1228 (M......

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