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Massachusetts' highest court ruled Wednesday that corporations can't face criminal charges in cases where none of their employees committed a crime, calling the theory "illogical."

The Supreme Judicial Court ruling came in a case where an Acton nursing home owner was charged with involuntary manslaughter after a patient in a wheelchair toppled down the stairs to her death in 2004.

State attorney general Martha Coakley's office charged Life Care Centers of America, Inc. with involuntary manslaughter, arguing the charge was justified due to a combination of various staff mistakes, none of which were criminal.

The SJC flatly rejected the argument, saying the AG can't combine actions that were at worst, negligent, and then charge the company with a crime.

"This theory is illogical and such an argument cannot succeed," the court wrote. "If at least one employee did not act wantonly or recklessly, then the corporation cannot be held to a higher standard of culpability by combining various employees' acts."

Coakley's office said it was disappointed by the decision, but it has not dropped the charge. Spokeswoman Emily LaGrassa said the AG was deciding whether to proceed based on possible criminal liability by a nursing supervisor.


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