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Halberstam v. Welch

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

December 3, 1982, Argued ; April 12, 1983, Decided

No. 82-1364

Opinion

 [*474]  WALD, Circuit Judge.

Linda S. Hamilton appeals a judgment of the district court in a diversity action that she is civilly liable, as a joint venturer and coconspirator, for the killing of Michael Halberstam by Bernard C. Welch, Jr. on December 5, 1980, in the District of Columbia. The appellee, Elliott Jones Halberstam, is the personal representative of the estate of Michael Halberstam, her late husband. She brought this wrongful death and survival action 1 for damages on behalf of the estate, Michael Halberstam's two children, and herself. Halberstam alleged that Bernard Welch and Linda Hamilton engaged in a joint criminal venture and conspiracy in the course of which Welch killed Michael Halberstam while burglarizing the Halberstams' home. Welch failed to file an answer, and the district court entered a default judgment against him on May 19, 1981. Hamilton actively defended the suit,  [**2]  but after a nonjury trial on January 12, 1982, the court found her jointly and severally liable with Welch and entered a judgment against both in the amount of $5,715,188.05. Hamilton now appeals the issue of her liability. 2 We conclude that the district court's findings of fact are not clearly erroneous, and that it applied the proper law; accordingly, we affirm the judgment against Hamilton.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of the shocking climax to a coldly efficient criminal campaign that had confounded, frustrated, and ultimately terrorized the Washington area. We are asked to determine the civil liability of the passive but compliant partner to this rampage that left widowed the wife of one of the community's most eminent physicians. As a result of Welch's innumerable burglaries over [**3]  the course of five years, he and Hamilton acquired a fortune that would have been the envy of a Barbary brigand. In the words of the district court, Hamilton:

knew full well the purpose of [Welch's] evening forays and the means by which she and Welch had risen from "rags to riches" in a relatively short period of time. She closed neither her eyes nor her pocketbook to the reality of the life she and Welch were living. She was compliant, but neither dumb nor duped, so long as her personal comfort and fortune were assured. She was a willing partner in his criminal activities.

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705 F.2d 472 *; 1983 U.S. App. LEXIS 28914 **; 227 U.S. App. D.C. 167

ELLIOTT JONES HALBERSTAM, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF MICHAEL HALBERSTAM, DECEASED v. BERNARD C. WELCH, JR., A/K/A NORM HAMILTON, LARRY LEE BOONE, JOHN WILLIAM LANDIS, BERNARD MILES, MYRON HENRY SNOW, JR., LINDA S. HAMILTON, Appellant

Prior History:  [**1]  Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

conspiracy, aiding-abetting, civil conspiracy, encouragement, cases, district court, burglary, tortious, enterprise, infer, vicarious liability, tortfeasor, conspirator, substantial assistance, foreseeable, concerted, killing, torches, church, scene, overt act, aider-abettor, Deposition, assault, parties, courts, coins, woman, tortious act, circumstances

Torts, Concerted Action, Civil Conspiracy, General Overview, Procedural Matters, Multiple Defendants, Joint & Several Liability, Criminal Law & Procedure, Accessories, Aiding & Abetting, Elements, Inchoate Crimes, Conspiracy, Civil Aiding & Abetting, Vicarious Liability, Burglary & Criminal Trespass, Burglary, Theft & Related Offenses, Civil Procedure, Trials, Bench Trials, Pretrial Matters, Conferences, Appeals, Standards of Review, Clearly Erroneous Review, Stolen Property, Receiving Stolen Property