SCHEIDLER v. NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR
Nos. 01-1118 and 01-1119
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
2003 U.S. LEXIS 1738
December 4, 2002, Argued
February 26, 2003, Decided
[*1] This preliminary LEXIS version is unedited and subject
The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change
pending release of the final published version.
PRIOR HISTORY: ON WRITS OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES
COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT.
NOW, Inc. v. Scheidler, 267 F.3d 687, 2001 U.S. App. LEXIS
21295 (7th Cir. Ill. 2001)
CORE TERMS: extortion, Hobbs Act, coercion, clinic, violence,
abortion, racketeering, Travel Act, injunctive relief, property right, solicit,
robbery, commit, predicate, property rights, nationwide, commerce, physical
violence, exclusive control, extortionate, disposal, deprived, intangible right,
Corrupt Organizations Act, pattern of racketeering activity, acquisition of
property, threats of violence, commit extortion, physical harm, wrongful use
SYLLABUS: Together with No. 01-1119, Operation Rescue v.
National Organization for Women, Inc., et al., also on certiorari to the same
Respondents, an organization that supports the legal
availability of abortion and two facilities that perform abortions, filed a
class action alleging that petitioners, individuals and organizations that
oppose legal abortion, violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations Act ( RICO) , 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(a), (c), and (d), by
engaging in a nationwide conspiracy to shut down abortion clinics through "a
pattern of racketeering activity" that included acts of[*2] extortion in
violation of the Hobbs Act, § 1951. In concluding that petitioners violated
RICO's civil provisions, the jury found, among other things, that petitioners'
alleged pattern of racketeering activity included violations of, or attempts or
conspiracy to violate, the Hobbs Act, state extortion law, and the Travel Act, §
1952. The jury awarded damages, and the District Court entered a permanent
nationwide injunction against petitioners. Affirming in relevant part, the
Seventh Circuit held, inter alia, that the things respondents claimed were
extorted from them -- the class women's right to seek medical services from the
clinics, the clinic doctors' rights to perform their jobs, and the clinics'
rights to conduct their business -- constituted "property" for purposes of the
Hobbs Act. The Court of Appeals further held that petitioners "obtained" that
property, as § 1951(b)(2) requires. The court also upheld the issuance of the
nationwide injunction, finding that private plaintiffs are entitled to obtain
injunctive relief under § 1964(c).
1. Because all of the predicate acts supporting the jury's
finding of a RICO violation must be reversed, the judgment [*3] that petitioners
violated RICO must also be reversed. Pp. 4-15.
(a) Petitioners did not commit extortion within the Hobbs
Act's meaning because they did not "obtain" property from respondents. Both of
the sources Congress used as models in formulating the Hobbs Act -- the New York
Penal Code and the Field Code, a 19th-century model penal code -- defined
extortion as, inter alia, the "obtaining" of property from another. This Court
has recognized that New York's "obtaining" requirement entailed both a
deprivation and acquisition of property, see United States v. Enmons, 410
U.S. 396, 406, n. 16, 35 L. Ed. 2d 379, 93 S. Ct. 1007, and has construed
the Hobbs Act provision at issue to require both features, see, e.g., id., at
400. It is undisputed that petitioners interfered with, disrupted, and in
some instances completely deprived respondents of their ability to exercise
their property rights. Likewise, petitioners' counsel has acknowledged that
aspects of his clients' conduct were criminal. But even when their acts of
interference and disruption achieved their ultimate goal of shutting down an
abortion clinic, such acts did not constitute extortion because petitioners[*4]
did not "obtain" respondents' property. Petitioners may have deprived or sought
to deprive respondents of their alleged property right of exclusive control of
their business assets, but they did not acquire any such property. They neither
pursued nor received "something of value from" respondents that they could
exercise, transfer, or sell. United States v. Nardello, 393 U.S. 286, 290, 21
L. Ed. 2d 487, 89 S. Ct. 534. To conclude that their actions constituted
extortion would effectively discard the statutory "obtaining" requirement and
eliminate the recognized distinction between extortion and the separate crime of
coercion. The latter crime, which more accurately describes the nature of
petitioners' actions, involves the use of force or threat of force to restrict
another's freedom of action. It was clearly defined in the New York Penal Code
as a separate, and lesser offense than extortion when Congress turned to New
York law in drafting the Hobbs Act. Congress' decision to include extortion as a
violation of the Hobbs Act and omit coercion is significant here, as is the fact
that the Anti-Racketeering Act, the predecessor to the Hobbs Act, contained
sections explicitly prohibiting both. The[*5] Hobbs Act omission is particularly
significant because a paramount congressional concern in drafting that Act was
to be clear about what conduct was prohibited, United States v. Culbert, 435
U.S. 371, 378, 55 L. Ed. 2d 349, 98 S. Ct. 1112, and to carefully define the
Act's key terms, including "extortion," id., at 373. Thus, while coercion
and extortion overlap to the extent that extortion necessarily involves the use
of coercive conduct to obtain property, there has been and continues to be a
recognized difference between these two crimes. Because the Hobbs Act is a
criminal statute, it must be strictly construed, and any ambiguity must be
resolved in favor of lenity. Enmons, supra, at 411. Culbert, supra, at 373,
distinguished. If the distinction between extortion and coercion, which controls
these cases, is to be abandoned, such a significant expansion of the law's
coverage must come from Congress, not from the courts. Pp. 4-14.
(b) This Court's determination as to Hobbs Act extortion
renders insufficient the other bases or predicate acts of racketeering
supporting the jury's conclusion that petitioners violated RICO. In accordance
with this Court's [*6]decisions in Nardello and Taylor v. United States, 495
U.S. 575, 109 L. Ed. 2d 607, 110 S. Ct. 2143 (1990), where as here the Model
Penal Code and a majority of Sates recognize the crime of extortion as requiring
a party to obtain or to seek to obtain property, as the Hobbs Act requires, a
state extortion offense for RICO purposes must have a similar requirement. Thus,
because petitioners did not obtain or attempt to obtain respondents' property,
both the state extortion claims and the claim of attempting or conspiring to
commit state extortion were fatally flawed. The violations of the Travel Act and
attempts to violate that Act also fail. These acts were committed in furtherance
of allegedly extortionate conduct, but petitioners did not commit or attempt to
commit extortion. Pp. 14-15.
2. Without an underlying RICO violation, the District Court's
injunction must necessarily be vacated. The Court therefore need not address the
second question presented -- whether a private plaintiff in a civil RICO action
is entitled to injunctive relief under § 1964(c). Pp. 15-16.
267 F.3d 687, reversed.
JUDGES: REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court,
in which O'CONNOR, SCALIA, [*7] KENNEDY, SOUTER, THOMAS, GINSBURG, and BREYER,
JJ., joined. GINSBURG, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BREYER, J.,
joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
OPINION: CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the
We granted certiorari in these cases to answer two questions.
First, whether petitioners committed extortion within the meaning of the Hobbs
Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951. Second, whether respondents, as private litigants,
may obtain injunctive relief in a civil action pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1964
of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ( RICO) . We hold that
petitioners did not commit extortion because they did not "obtain" property from
respondents as required by the Hobbs Act. We further hold that our determination
with respect to extortion under the Hobbs Act renders insufficient the other
bases or predicate acts of racketeering supporting the jury's conclusion that
petitioners violated RICO. Therefore, we reverse without reaching the question
of the availability of private injunctive relief under § 1964(c) of RICO.
We once again address questions arising from litigation[*8]
between petitioners, a coalition of antiabortion groups called the Pro-Life
Action Network (PLAN), Joseph Scheidler and other individuals and organizations
that oppose legal abortion, n1 and respondents, the National Organization for
Women, Inc. (NOW), a national nonprofit organization that supports the legal
availability of abortion, and two health care centers that perform abortions. n2
Our earlier decision provides a substantial description of the factual and
procedural history of this litigation, see National Organization for Women,
Inc. v. Scheidler, 510 U.S. 249, 127 L. Ed. 2d 99, 114 S. Ct. 798 (1994),
and so we recount only those details necessary to address the questions here
n1 The other petitioners include Andrew Scholberg, Timothy
Murphy, and Operation Rescue.
n2 NOW represents a certified class of all NOW members and
non-members who have used or would use the services of an abortion clinic in the
United States. The two clinics, the National Women's Health Organization of
Summit, Inc., and the National Women's Health Organization of Delaware, Inc.,
represent a class of all clinics in the United States at which abortions are
In 1986, respondents sued in the United States District Court
for the Northern District of Illinois alleging, inter alia, that petitioners
violated RICO's §§ 1962(a), (c), and (d). They claimed that petitioners, all of
whom were associated with PLAN, the alleged racketeering enterprise, were
members of a nationwide conspiracy to "shut down" abortion clinics through a
pattern of racketeering activity that included acts of extortion in violation of
the Hobbs Act. n3
n3 The Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), provides that
"whoever in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce or the
movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery or extortion or
attempts or conspires so to do, or commits or threatens physical violence to any
person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in
violation of this section shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more
than twenty years, or both."
The District Court dismissed respondents' RICO claims
for[*10] failure to allege that the predicate acts of racketeering or the
racketeering enterprise were economically motivated. See National
Organization for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, 765 F. Supp. 937 (ND Ill. 1991).
The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed that dismissal. See
National Organization for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, 968 F.2d 612 (1992). We
granted certiorari and reversed, concluding that RICO does not require proof
that either the racketeering enterprise or the predicate acts of racketeering
were motivated by an economic purpose. See Scheidler, 510 U.S., at 256-262.
The case was remanded to the District Court for further proceedings.
After a 7-week trial, a six-member jury concluded that
petitioners violated the civil provisions of RICO. By answering a series of
special interrogatory questions, the jury found, inter alia, that petitioners'
alleged "pattern of racketeering activity" included 21 violations of the Hobbs
Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951; 25 violations of state extortion law; 25 instances
of attempting or conspiring to commit either federal or state extortion; 23
violations of [*11]the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1952; and 23 instances of
attempting to violate the Travel Act. The jury awarded $31,455.64 to respondent,
the National Women's Health Organization of Delaware, Inc., and $54,471.28 to
the National Women's Health Organization of Summit, Inc. These damages were
trebled pursuant to § 1964(c). Additionally, the District Court entered a
permanent nationwide injunction prohibiting petitioners from obstructing access
to the clinics, trespassing on clinic property, damaging clinic property, or
using violence or threats of violence against the clinics, their employees, or
The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed in
relevant part. The Court of Appeals rejected petitioners' contention that the
things respondents claimed were "obtained" -- the class women's right to seek
medical services from the clinics, the clinic doctors' rights to perform their
jobs, and the clinics' rights to provide medical services and otherwise conduct
their business -- were not "property" for purposes of the Hobbs Act. The court
explained that it had "repeatedly held that intangible property such as the
right to conduct a business can[*12] be considered 'property' under the Hobbs
Act." NOW, Inc. v. Scheidler 267 F.3d 687, 709 (2001). Likewise, the
Court of Appeals dismissed petitioners' claim that even if "property" was
involved, petitioners did not "obtain" that property; they merely forced
respondents to part with it. Again relying on Circuit precedent, the court held
that "'as a legal matter, an extortionist can violate the Hobbs Act without
either seeking or receiving money or anything else. A loss to, or interference
with the rights of, the victim is all that is required.'" Ibid. (quoting
United States v. Stillo, 57 F.3d 553, 559 (CA7 1995)). Finally, the Court of
Appeals upheld the issuance of the nationwide injunction, finding that private
plaintiffs are entitled to obtain injunctive relief under § 1964(c) of RICO. We
granted certiorari, 535 U.S. 1016 (2002), and now reverse.
We first address the question whether petitioners' actions
constituted extortion in violation of the Hobbs Act. That Act defines extortion
as "the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by
wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of
official right." [*13] 18 U.S.C. § 1951(b)(2). Petitioners allege that
the jury's verdict and the Court of Appeals' decision upholding the verdict
represent a vast and unwarranted expansion of extortion under the Hobbs Act.
They say that the decisions below "read the requirement of 'obtaining'
completely out of the statute" and conflict with the proper understanding of
property for purposes of the Hobbs Act. Brief for Petitioners Joseph Scheidler
et al. in No. 01-1118, pp. 11-13.
Respondents, throughout the course of this litigation, have
asserted, as the jury instructions at the trial reflected, n4 that petitioners
committed extortion under the Hobbs Act by using or threatening to use force,
violence, or fear to cause respondents "to give up" property rights, namely, "a
woman's right to seek medical services from a clinic, the right of the doctors,
nurses or other clinic staff to perform their jobs, and the right of the clinics
to provide medical services free from wrongful threats, violence, coercion and
fear." Jury Instruction No. 24, App. 136. Perhaps recognizing the apparent
difficulty in reconciling either its position that "giving up" these alleged
property rights or the Court[*14] of Appeals' holding that "interfering with
such rights" with the requirement that petitioners "obtained . . . property
from" them, respondents have shifted the thrust of their theory. 267 F.3d at
687. Respondents now assert that petitioners violated the Hobbs Act by
"seeking to get control of the use and disposition of respondents' property."
Brief for Respondents 24. They argue that because the right to control the use
and disposition of an asset is property, petitioners, who interfered with, and
in some instances completely disrupted, the ability of the clinics to function,
obtained or attempted to obtain respondents' property.
n4 The instruction given to the jury regarding extortion
under the Hobbs Act provided that "plaintiffs have alleged that the defendant
and others associated with PLAN committed acts that violate federal law
prohibiting extortion. In order to show that extortion has been committed in
violation of federal law, the plaintiffs must show that the defendant or someone
else associated with PLAN knowingly, willfully, and wrongfully used actual or
threatened force, violence or fear to cause women, clinic doctors, nurses or
other staff, or the clinics themselves to give up a 'property right.'" Jury
Instruction No. 24, App. 136.
The United States offers a view similar to that of
respondents, asserting that "where the property at issue is a business's
intangible right to exercise exclusive control over the use of its assets, [a]
defendant obtains that property by obtaining control over the use of those
assets." Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 22. Although the Government
acknowledges that the jury's finding of extortion may have been improperly based
on the conclusion that petitioners deprived respondents of a liberty interest,
n5 it maintains that under its theory of liability, petitioners committed
n5 The Solicitor General agreed at oral argument that even if
we accept the Government's view as to extortion under the Hobbs Act, the case
must be remanded because the generalized jury instruction regarding federal
extortion included a woman's right to seek medical services as a property right
petitioners' could extort from respondents; a right he acknowledged is more
accurately characterized as an individual liberty interest. See Tr. of Oral Arg.
We need not now trace what are the outer boundaries of
extortion liability under the Hobbs Act, so that liability might be based on
obtaining something as intangible as another's right to exercise exclusive
control over the use of a party's business assets. n6 Our decisions in United
States v. Green, 350 U.S. 415, 420, 100 L. Ed. 494, 76 S. Ct. 522 (1956)
(explaining that "extortion . . . in no way depends upon having a direct benefit
conferred on the person who obtains the property"), and Carpenter v. United
States, 484 U.S. 19, 27, 98 L. Ed. 2d 275, 108 S. Ct. 316 (1987) (finding
that confidential business information constitutes "property" for purposes of
the federal mail fraud statute), do not require such a result. Whatever the
outer boundaries may be, the effort to characterize petitioners' actions here as
an "obtaining of property from" respondents is well beyond them. Such a result
would be an unwarranted expansion of the meaning of that phrase.
n6 Accordingly, the dissent is mistaken to suggest that our
decision reaches, much less rejects, lower court decisions such as United
States v. Tropiano, 418 F.2d 1069, 1076 (1969), in which the Second Circuit
concluded that the intangible right to solicit refuse collection accounts
"constituted property within the Hobbs Act definition."
Absent contrary direction from Congress, we begin our
interpretation of statutory language with the general presumption that a
statutory term has its common-law meaning. See Taylor v. United States, 495
U.S. 575, 592, 109 L. Ed. 2d 607, 110 S. Ct. 2143 (1990); Morissette v.
United States, 342 U.S. 246, 263, 96 L. Ed. 288, 72 S. Ct. 240 (1952). At
common law, extortion was a property offense committed by a public official who
took "any money or thing of value" that was not due to him under the pretense
that he was entitled to such property by virtue of his office. 4 William
Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 141 (1765); 3 R. Anderson,
Wharton's Criminal Law and Procedure § 1393, pp. 790-791 (1957). In 1946,
Congress enacted the Hobbs Act, which explicitly "expanded the common-law
definition of extortion to include acts by private individuals." Evans v.
United States, 504 U.S. 255, 261, 119 L. Ed. 2d 57, 112 S. Ct. 1881 (1992).
While the Hobbs Act expanded the scope of common-law extortion to include
private individuals, the statutory language retained the requirement that
property must be "obtained." See 18 U.S.C. § 1951(b)(2).
Congress used two sources of law as models in
formulating[*18] the Hobbs Act: the Penal Code of New York and the Field Code, a
19th-century model penal code. See Evans, supra, at 262. n7 Both the New
York statute and the Field Code defined extortion as "the obtaining of property
from another with his consent, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear or
under color of official right." 4 Report of the Commissioners of the Code,
Proposed Penal Code of the State of New York § 613 (1865) (reprint 1998) (Field
Code); N. Y. Penal Law § 850 (1909). The Field Code explained that extortion was
one of four property crimes, along with robbery, larceny, and embezzlement that
included "the criminal acquisition of . . . property." § 584 note, p. 210. New
York case law before the enactment of the Hobbs Act demonstrates that this
"obtaining of property" requirement included both a deprivation and acquisition
of property. See, e.g., People v. Ryan, 232 N. Y. 234, 236, 133 N. E. 572,
573 (1921) (explaining that an intent "to extort" requires an accompanying
intent to "gain money or property"); People v. Weinseimer, 117 App. Div. 603,
616, 102 N. Y. S. 579, 588, 20 N.Y. Cr. 537 (1907) (noting that in an
extortion[*19] prosecution, the issue that must be decided is whether the
accused "received [money] from the complainant"). n8
n7 Representative Hobbs explicitly stated that the term
extortion was "based on the New York law." 89 Cong. Rec. 3227 (1943).
n8 The dissent endorses the opinion of the Court of Appeals
in United States v. Arena, 180 F.3d 380 (CA2 1999), to reach a more
expansive definition of "obtain" than is found in the cases just cited. The
Court of Appeals quoted part of a dictionary definition of the word "obtain" in
Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 180 F.3d at 394. The full text
of the definition reads "to gain or attain possession or disposal of." That
court then resorted to the dictionary definition of "disposal," which includes
"the regulation of the fate . . . of something." Surely if the rule of lenity,
which we have held applicable to the Hobbs Act, see infra, at 13-14, means
anything, it means that the familiar meaning of the word "obtain" -- to gain
possession of -- should be preferred to the vague and obscure "to attain
regulation of the fate of."
We too have recognized that the "obtaining" requirement of
extortion under New York law entailed both a deprivation and acquisition of
property. See United States v. Enmons, 410 U.S. 396, 406, n. 16, 35 L. Ed. 2d
379, 93 S. Ct. 1007,(1973) (noting that "judicial construction of the New
York statute" demonstrated that "extortion requires an intent 'to obtain that
which in justice and equity the party is not entitled to receive'") (quoting
People v. Cuddihy, 151 Misc. 318, 324, 271 N. Y. S. 450, 456 (1934)). Most
importantly, we have construed the extortion provision of the Hobbs Act at issue
in this case to require not only the deprivation but also the acquisition of
property. See, e.g., Enmons, supra, at 400. (Extortion under the Hobbs
Act requires a "'wrongful' taking of . . . property" (emphasis added)). With
this understanding of the Hobbs Act's requirement that a person must "obtain"
property from another party to commit extortion, we turn to the facts of these
There is no dispute in these cases that petitioners
interfered with, disrupted, and in some instances completely deprived
respondents of their ability to exercise their property[*21] rights. Likewise,
petitioners' counsel readily acknowledged at oral argument that aspects of his
clients' conduct were criminal. n9 But even when their acts of interference and
disruption achieved their ultimate goal of "shutting down" a clinic that
performed abortions, such acts did not constitute extortion because petitioners
did not "obtain" respondents' property. Petitioners may have deprived or sought
to deprive respondents of their alleged property right of exclusive control of
their business assets, but they did not acquire any such property. Petitioners
neither pursued nor received "something of value from" respondents that they
could exercise, transfer, or sell. United States v. Nardello, 393 U.S. 286,
290, 21 L. Ed. 2d 487, 89 S. Ct. 534 (1969). To conclude that such actions
constituted extortion would effectively discard the statutory requirement that
property must be obtained from another, replacing it instead with the notion
that merely interfering with or depriving someone of property is sufficient to
n9 "QUESTION: But are we talking about actions that
constitute the commission of some kind of criminal offense in the process?
. . . . .
"MR. ENGLERT: Oh, yes. Trespass.
"QUESTION: Yes, and other things, destruction of property and
so forth, I suppose.
"MR. ENGLERT: Oh, yes . . . .
. . . . .
"QUESTION: I mean, we're not talking about conduct that is
"MR. ENGLERT: We are not talking about extortion, but we are
talking about some things that could be punished much less severely. It has
never been disputed in this case . . . that there were trespasses." Tr. of Oral
Eliminating the requirement that property must be obtained to
constitute extortion would not only conflict with the express requirement of the
Hobbs Act, it would also eliminate the recognized distinction between extortion
and the separate crime of coercion -- a distinction that is implicated in these
cases. The crime of coercion, which more accurately describes the nature of
petitioners' actions, involves the use of force or threat of force to restrict
another's freedom of action. Coercion's origin is statutory, and it was clearly
defined in the New York Penal Code as a separate, and lesser offense than
extortion when Congress turned to New York law in drafting the Hobbs Act. n10
New York case law applying the coercion statute before the passage of the Hobbs
Act involved the prosecution of individuals who, like petitioners, employed
threats and acts of force and violence to dictate and restrict the actions and
decisions of businesses. See, e.g., People v. Ginsberg, 262 N. Y. 556, 188 N.
E. 62 (1933) (affirming convictions for coercion where defendant used
threatened and actual property damage to compel the owner of a drug store to
become a member of a local[*23] trade association and to remove price
advertisements for specific merchandise from his store's windows); People v.
Scotti, 266 N. Y. 480, 195 N. E. 162 (1934) (affirming conviction for
coercion where defendants used threatened and actual force to compel a
manufacturer to enter into an agreement with a labor union of which the
defendants were members); People v. Kaplan, 240 App. Div. 72, 269 N. Y. S.
161 (1934) (affirming convictions for coercion where defendants, members of
a labor union, used threatened and actual physical violence to compel other
members of the union to drop lawsuits challenging the manner in which defendants
were handling the union's finances).
n10 New York Penal Law § 530 (1909), Coercing another person
a misdemeanor, provided: "A person who with a view to compel another person to
do or to abstain from doing an act which such other person has a legal right to
do or to abstain from doing, wrongfully and unlawfully,
"1. Uses violence or inflicts injury upon such other person
or his family, or a member thereof, or upon his property or threatens such
violence or injury; or,
"2. Deprives any such person of any tool, implement or
clothing or hinders him in the use thereof; or,
"3. Uses or attempts the intimidation of such person by
threats or force,
"Is guilty of a misdemeanor."
With this distinction between extortion and coercion clearly
drawn in New York law prior to 1946, Congress' decision to include extortion as
a violation of the Hobbs Act and omit coercion is significant assistance to our
interpretation of the breadth of the extortion provision. This assistance is
amplified by other evidence of Congress' awareness of the difference between
these two distinct crimes. In 1934, Congress formulated the Anti-Racketeering
Act, ch. 569, 48 Stat. 979. This Act, which was the predecessor to the Hobbs
Act, targeted, as its name suggests, racketeering activities that affected
interstate commerce, including both extortion and coercion as defined under New
York law. n11 Accordingly, the Act contained both a section explicitly
prohibiting coercion and a section prohibiting the offense of extortion as
defined by the Field Code and New York Penal Code. See ch. 569, §§ 2(a) and
n11 A subcommittee of the Commerce Committee, known as the
Copeland Subcommittee, employed a working definition of "racketeering," which
included organized conspiracies to "commit the crimes of extortion or coercion,
or attempts to commit extortion or coercion, within the definition of these
crimes found in the penal law of the State of New York and other jurisdictions."
S. Rep. No. 1189, 75th Cong., 1st Sess., 3 (1937); United States v. Culbert,
435 U.S. 371, 375-376, 55 L. Ed. 2d 349, 98 S. Ct. 1112 (1978).
Several years after the enactment of the Anti-Racketeering
Act, this Court decided United States v. Teamsters, 315 U.S. 521, 86 L. Ed.
1004, 62 S. Ct. 642 (1942). In Teamsters, this Court construed an exception
provided in the Anti-Racketeering Act for the payment of wages by a bona fide
employer to a bona fide employee to find that the Act "did not cover the actions
of union truckdrivers who exacted money by threats or violence from out-of-town
drivers in return for undesired and often unutilized services." United States
v. Culbert , 435 U.S. 371, 377 (1978) (citing Teamsters, supra).
"Congressional disapproval of this decision was swift," and the Hobbs Act was
subsequently enacted to supersede the Anti-Racketeering Act and reverse the
result in Teamsters. Enmons , 410 U.S., at 402, and n. 8. The Act
prohibited interference with commerce, by "robbery or extortion" but, as
explained above, did not mention coercion.
This omission of coercion is particularly significant in
light of the fact that after Teamsters, a "paramount congressional concern" in
drafting the Hobbs Act, "was to be clear about what conduct was prohibited."
Culbert, supra, at 378.[*26] n12 Accordingly, the Act "carefully defines its
key terms, such as 'robbery,' 'extortion,' and 'commerce.'" Id., at 373.
Thus, while coercion and extortion certainly overlap to the extent that
extortion necessarily involves the use of coercive conduct to obtain property,
there has been and continues to be a recognized difference between these two
crimes, see, e.g., ALI, Model Penal Code and Commentaries §§ 212.5, 223.4 (1980)
(hereinafter Model Penal Code), n13 and we find it evident that this distinction
was not lost on Congress in formulating the Hobbs Act.
n12 As we reported in Culbert, supra, at 378: "Indeed, many
Congressmen praised the [Hobbs Act] because it set out with more precision the
conduct that was being made criminal. As Representative Hobbs noted, the words
robbery and extortion 'have been construed a thousand times by the courts.
Everybody knows what they mean'" (quoting 91 Cong. Rec. 11912 (1945)).
n13 Under the Model Penal Code § 223.4, Comment 1, pp.
201-202, extortion requires that one "obtains [the] property of another" using
threat as "the method employed to deprive the victim of his property." This
"obtaining" is further explained as "' bringing about a transfer or purported
transfer of a legal interest in the property, whether to the obtainer or
another.'" Id., § 223.3, Comment 2, at 182, Coercion, on the other hand, is
defined as making "specified categories of threats . . . with the purpose of
unlawfully restricting another's freedom of action to his detriment." Id., §
212.5, Comment 2, at 264.
We have said that the words of the Hobbs Act "do not lend
themselves to restrictive interpretation" because they "'manifest . . . a
purpose to use all the constitutional power Congress has to punish interference
with interstate commerce by extortion, robbery or physical violence.'"
Culbert, supra, at 373 (quoting Stirone v. United States, 361 U.S. 212,
215, 4 L. Ed. 2d 252, 80 S. Ct. 270 (1960)). We have also said, construing
the Hobbs Act in Enmons, supra, at 411:
"Even if the language and history of the Act were less
clear than we have found them to be, the Act could not properly be expanded as
the Government suggests -- for two related reasons. First, this being a criminal
statute, it must be strictly construed, and any ambiguity must be resolved in
favor of lenity (citations omitted)."
We think that these two seemingly antithetical statements can
be reconciled. Culbert refused to adopt the view that Congress had not exercised
the full extent of its commerce power in prohibiting extortion which "affects
commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce." But there is
no contention by petitioners here that their acts did not affect interstate
[*28]commerce. Their argument is that their acts did not amount to the crime of
extortion as set forth in the Act, so the rule of lenity referred to in Enmons
may apply to their case quite consistently with the statement in Culbert. "When
there are two rational readings of a criminal statute, one harsher than the
other, we are to choose the harsher only when Congress has spoken in clear and
definite language." McNally v. United States, 483 U.S. 350, 359-360, 97 L.
Ed. 2d 292, 107 S. Ct. 2875 (1987). If the distinction between extortion and
coercion, which we find controls these cases, is to be abandoned, such a
significant expansion of the law's coverage must come from Congress, and not
from the courts.
Because we find that petitioners did not obtain or attempt to
obtain property from respondents, we conclude that there was no basis upon which
to find that they committed extortion under the Hobbs Act.
The jury also found that petitioners had committed extortion
under various state-law extortion statutes, a separate RICO predicate offense.
Petitioners challenged the jury instructions as to these on appeal, but the
Court of Appeals held that any error was harmless, because the Hobbs Act
verdicts[*29] were sufficient to support the relief awarded. Respondents argue
in this Court that state extortion offenses do not have to be identical to Hobbs
Act extortion to be predicate offenses supporting a RICO violation. They
concede, however, that for a state offense to be an "act or threat involving . .
. extortion, . . . which is chargeable under State law," as RICO requires, see
18 U.S.C. § 1961(1), the conduct must be capable of being generically
classified as extortionate. Brief for Respondents 33-34. They further agree that
such "generic" extortion is defined as "'obtaining something of value from
another with his consent induced by the wrongful use of force, fear, or
threats.'" ID., at 34 (quoting Nardello, 393 U.S., at 290).
This concession is in accord with our decisions in
Nardello and Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575 (1990). In Nardello,
we held that the Travel Act's prohibition, 18 U.S.C. § 1952(b)(2),
against "extortion . . . in violation of the laws of the State in which
committed or of the United States" applies to extortionate conduct classified by
a state penal code as blackmail[*30] rather than extortion. We determined that
if an act prohibited under state law fell within a generic definition of
extortion, for which we relied on the Model Penal Code's definition of
"obtaining something of value from another with his consent induced by the
wrongful use of force, fear, or threats," it would constitute a violation of the
Travel Act's prohibition regardless of the State's label for that unlawful act.
See Nardello, supra, at 296 (explaining that regardless of Pennsylvania's
labeling defendants' acts as blackmail and not extortion, defendants violated
the Travel Act because "the indictment encompasses a type of activity generally
known as extortionate since money was to be obtained from the victim by virtue
of fear and threats of exposure"). In Taylor, relying in part on Nardello, we
concluded that in including "burglary" as a violent crime in 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)'s
sentencing enhancement provision for felons' possessing firearms, Congress meant
"burglary" in "the generic sense in which the term is now used in the criminal
codes of most States." 495 U.S., at 598. Accordingly, where as here the
Model Penal Code[*31] and a majority of States recognize the crime of extortion
as requiring a party to obtain or to seek to obtain property, as the Hobbs Act
requires, the state extortion offense for purposes of RICO must have a similar
Because petitioners did not obtain or attempt to obtain
respondents' property, both the state extortion claims and the claim of
attempting or conspiring to commit state extortion were fatally flawed. The 23
violations of the Travel Act and 23 acts of attempting to violate the Travel Act
also fail. These acts were committed in furtherance of allegedly extortionate
conduct. But we have already determined that petitioners did not commit or
attempt to commit extortion.
Because all of the predicate acts supporting the jury's
finding of a RICO violation must be reversed, the judgment that petitioners
violated RICO must also be reversed. Without an underlying RICO violation, the
injunction issued by the District Court must necessarily be vacated. We
therefore need not address the second question presented -- whether a private
plaintiff in a civil RICO action is entitled to injunctive relief under 18
U.S.C. § 1964.
The judgment of the Court[*32] of Appeals is accordingly
CONCUR BY: GINSBURG, with whom BREYER joins
CONCUR: JUSTICE GINSBURG, with whom JUSTICE BREYER joins,
I join the Court's opinion, persuaded that the Seventh
Circuit's decision accords undue breadth to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations Act ( RICO or Act). As JUSTICE STEVENS recognizes, "Congress has
enacted specific legislation responsive to the concerns that gave rise to these
cases." Post, at 6 (dissenting opinion). In the Freedom of Access to Clinic
Entrances Act of 1994, 18 U.S.C. § 248, Congress crafted a statutory
response that homes in on the problem of criminal activity at health care
facilities. See ante, at 9-10, and n. 9 (noting petitioners' acknowledgment that
at least some of the protesters' conduct was criminal, and observing that "the
crime of coercion [a separate, and lesser offense than extortion] more
accurately describes the nature of petitioners' actions"). Thus, the principal
effect of a decision against petitioners here would have been on other cases
pursued under RICO. *
* At oral argument, the Government was asked:: "Do you agree
that your interpretation would have been applicable to the civil rights
sit-ins?" Tr. of Oral Arg. 25. The Solicitor General responded: "Under some
circumstances, it could have if illegal force or threats were used to prevent a
business from operating." Ibid.
RICO, which empowers both prosecutors and private enforcers,
imposes severe criminal penalties and hefty civil liability on those engaged in
conduct within the Act's compass. See, e.g., § 1963(a) (up to 20 years'
imprisonment and wide-ranging forfeiture for a single criminal violation); §
1964(a) (broad civil injunctive relief); § 1964(c) (treble damages and
attorneys' fees for private plaintiffs). It has already "evolved into something
quite different from the original conception of its enactors," Sedima, S. P.
R. L. v. Imrex Co., 473 U.S. 479, 500, 87 L. Ed. 2d 346, 105 S. Ct. 3275 (1985),
warranting "concerns over the consequences of an unbridled reading of the
statute," id., at 481. The Court is rightly reluctant, as I see it, to
extend RICO's domain further by endorsing the expansive definition of
"extortion" adopted by the Seventh Circuit.
DISSENT: JUSTICE STEVENS, dissenting.
The term "extortion" as defined in the Hobbs Act refers to
"the obtaining of property from another." 18 U.S.C. § 1951(b)(2). The
Court's murky opinion seems to hold that this phrase covers nothing more than
the acquisition of tangible property. No other[*34] federal court has ever
construed this statute so narrowly.
For decades federal judges have uniformly given the term
"property" an expansive construction that encompasses the intangible right to
exercise exclusive control over the lawful use of business assets. The right to
serve customers or to solicit new business is thus a protected property right.
The use of violence or threats of violence to persuade the owner of a business
to surrender control of such an intangible right is an appropriation of control
embraced by the term "obtaining." That is the commonsense reading of the statute
that other federal judges have consistently and wisely embraced in numerous
cases that the Court does not discuss or even cite. Recognizing this settled
definition of property, as I believe one must, the conclusion that petitioners
obtained this property from respondents is amply supported by the evidence in
Because this construction of the Hobbs Act has been so
uniform, I only discuss a few of the more significant cases. For example, in
United States v. Tropiano, 418 F.2d 1069 (1969), the Second Circuit held
that threats of physical violence to persuade the owners[*35] of a competing
trash removal company to refrain from soliciting customers in certain areas
violated the Hobbs Act. The court's reasoning is directly applicable to these
"The application of the Hobbs Act to the present facts of
this case has been seriously challenged by the appellants upon the ground that
the Government's evidence indicates that no 'property' was extorted and that
there was no interference or attempted interference with interstate commerce.
They assert that nothing more than 'the right to do business' in the Milford
area was surrendered by Caron and that such a right was not 'property'
'obtained' by the appellants, as those terms are used in the Act. While they
concede that rubbish removal accounts which are purchased and sold are probably
property, they argue that the right to solicit business is amorphous and cannot
be squared with the Congressional expression in the Act of 'obtaining property.'
The Hobbs Act 'speaks in broad language, manifesting a purpose to use all the
constitutional power Congress has to punish interference with interstate
commerce by extortion, robbery or physical violence.' Stirone v. United
States, 361 U.S. 212, 215 (1960).[*36] The concept of property under the
Hobbs Act, as devolved from its legislative history and numerous decisions, is
not limited to physical or tangible property or things ( United States v.
Provenzano, 334 F.2d 678 (3d Cir. 1964); United States v. Nedley, 255
F.2d 350 (3d Cir. 1958)), but includes, in a broad sense, any valuable right
considered as a source or element of wealth ( Bianchi v. United States, 219
F.2d 182 (8th Cir. 1955)), and does not depend upon a direct benefit being
conferred on the person who obtains the property ( United States v. Green,
350 U.S. 415 (1956)).
Id., at 1075-1076 "Obviously, Caron had a right to
solicit business from anyone in any area without any territorial restrictions by
the appellants and only by the exercise of such a right could Caron obtain
customers whose accounts were admittedly valuable . . . . The right to pursue a
lawful business including the solicitation of customers necessary to the conduct
of such business has long been recognized as a property right within the
protection of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution ( Louis
K. Ligget Co. v. Baldridge, 278 U.S. 105, 73 L. Ed. 204, 49 S. Ct. 57 (1928);
cf., [*37] Duplex Printing Press Co. v. Deering, 254 U.S. 443, 465, 65 L. Ed.
349, 41 S. Ct. 172, 18 Ohio L. Rep. 366 (1921) . . . . Caron's right to
solicit accounts in Milford, Connecticut constituted property within the Hobbs
Act definition." (some citations omitted).
The Tropiano case's discussion of obtaining property has been
cited with approval by federal courts in virtually every circuit in the country.
See, e.g., United States v. Hathaway, 534 F.2d 386, 396 (CA1 1976);
United States v. Arena, 180 F.3d 380, 392 (CA2 1999); Northeast Women's
Center, Inc. v. McMonagle, 868 F.2d 1342, 1350 (CA3 1989); United States
v. Santoni, 585 F.2d 667, 673 (CA4 1978); United States v. Nadaline, 471
F.2d 340, 344 (CA5 1973); United States v. Debs, 949 F.2d 199, 201 (CA6
1991); United States v. Lewis, 797 F.2d 358, 364 (CA7 1986);
United States v. Zemek, 634 F.2d 1159, 1174 (CA9 1980). n1 Its
interpretation of the term "property" is consistent with pre-Hobbs Act decisions
of this Court, see Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60, 74, 62 L. Ed. 149, 38 S.
Ct. 16 (1917)[*38] (property "consists of the free use, enjoyment, and
disposal of a person's acquisitions without control or diminution"), the New
York Court of Appeals, see People v. Barondess, 133 N. Y. 649, 31 N. E. 240,
8 N.Y. Cr. 376 (1892), the California Supreme Court, People v. Cadman, 57
Cal. 562 (1881), and with our recent decision in Carpenter v. United
States, 484 U.S. 19 (1987).
n1 Indeed, the Ninth Circuit's discussion of the nature
of property under the Hobbs Act illustrates just how settled this issue was in
the Courts of Appeals:
"The concept of property under the Hobbs Act has not been
limited to physical or tangible 'things.' The right to make business decisions
and to solicit business free from wrongful coercion is a protected property
right. See, e. g., United States v. Santoni, 585 F.2d 667 (4th Cir. 1978)
(right to make business decisions free from outside pressure wrongfully
imposed); United States v. Nadaline, 471 F.2d 340 (5th Cir.) (right to
business accounts and unrealized profits) . . . . Cf. United States v.
Hathaway, 534 F.2d 386, 395 (1st Cir.) (rejection of narrow perception of
'property'); Battaglia v. United States, 383 F.2d 303 (9th Cir. 1967)
(right to lease space in bowling alley free from threats) . . . . Chase's right
to solicit business free from threatened destruction and physical harm falls
within the scope of protected property rights under the Hobbs Act.
. . . . .
"Evidence of the previously described acts of intimidation
and violence suffices. Appellants' objective was to induce Chase to give up a
lucrative business. The fact that their threats were unsuccessful does not
preclude conviction." United States v. Zemek, 634 F.2d at 1174 (some
None of the cases following United States v. Tropiano, 418
F.2d 1069 (CA2 1969), even considered the novel suggestion that this method
of obtaining control of intangible property amounted to nothing more than the
nonfederal misdemeanor of "coercion," see ante, at 9-10 (majority opinion);
ante, at 1 (GINSBURG, J. concurring).
The courts that have considered the applicability of the
Hobbs Act to attempts to disrupt the operations of abortion clinics have
uniformly adhered to the holdings of cases like Tropiano. See, e.g., Libertad
v. Welch, 53 F.3d 428, 438, n. 6 (CA1 1995); Northeast Women's Center,
Inc. v. McMonagle, 868 F.2d at 1350); United States v. Anderson, 716 F.2d
446, 447-450 (CA7 1983). Judge Kearse's endorsement of the Government's
position in United States v. Arena, 180 F.3d 380 (CA2 1999), followed
this consistent line of cases. The jury had found that the defendants had
engaged in "an overall strategy to cause abortion providers, particularly
Planned Parenthood and Yoffa, to give up their property rights to engage in the
business of providing abortion services for fear of future attacks." Id., at
393. Judge Kearse described how this behavior fell well within the reach of
the Hobbs Act:
"Property may be tangible or intangible, and the property at
issue here was the intangible right to conduct business free from threats of
violence and physical harm . . . . A perpetrator plainly may 'obtain' [*40]
property without receiving anything, for obtaining includes 'attaining . . .
disposal of,' Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1559 (1976); and
'disposal' includes 'the regulation of the fate . . . of something,' id. at 655.
Thus, even when an extortionist has not taken possession of the property that
the victim has relinquished, she has nonetheless 'obtained' that property if she
has used violence to force her victim to abandon it. The fact that the target of
a threat or attack may have refused to relinquish his property does not lessen
the extortionist's liability under the Hobbs Act, for the Act, by its terms,
also reaches attempts. See 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a); McLaughlin v.
Anderson, 962 F.2d 187, 194 (2d Cir. 1992).
"In sum, where the property in question is the victim's
right to conduct a business free from threats of violence and physical harm, a
person who has committed or threatened violence or physical harm in order to
induce abandonment of that right has obtained, or attempted to obtain, property
within the meaning of the Hobbs Act." Id., at 394.
In my opinion Judge Kearse's analysis of the issue is
manifestly[*41] correct. Even if the issue were close, however, three additional
considerations provide strong support for her conclusion. First, the uniform
construction of the statute that has prevailed throughout the country for
decades should remain the law unless and until Congress decides to amend the
statute. See Reves v. Ernst & Young, 494 U.S. 56, 74, 108 L. Ed. 2d 47, 110
S. Ct. 945 (1990) (STEVENS, J., concurring); Chesapeake & Ohio R. Co. v.
Schwalb, 493 U.S. 40, 51, 107 L. Ed. 2d 278, 110 S. Ct. 381 (1989) (STEVENS,
J., concurring in judgment); McNally v. United States, 483 U.S. 350, 376-377
(1987) (STEVENS, J., dissenting); n2 Shearson/American Express Inc. v.
McMahon, 482 U.S. 220, 268-269, 96 L. Ed. 2d 185, 107 S. Ct. 2332 (1987)
(STEVENS, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Second, both this
Court and all other federal courts have consistently identified the Hobbs Act as
a statute that Congress intended to be given a broad construction. See, e.g.,
Stirone v. United States, 361 U.S. 212 (1960); United States v. Staszcuk,
517 F.2d 53 (CA7 1975). Third, given the fact that Congress has enacted
specific legislation responsive to the concerns that[*42] gave rise to these
cases, n3 the principal beneficiaries of the Court's dramatic retreat from the
position that federal prosecutors and federal courts have maintained throughout
the history of this important statute will certainly be the class of
professional criminals whose conduct persuaded Congress that the public needed
federal protection from extortion. n4
n2 Congress corrected the Court's narrow reading of the mail
fraud statute in McNally by passing 18 U.S.C. § 1346, which overruled
McNally. See, e.g., United States v. Bortnovsky, 879 F.2d 30, 39 (CA2 1989)
("Section 1346 . . . overrules McNally") Of course, Congress remains free to
correct the Court's error in these cases as well.
n3 See Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994,
108 Stat. 694.
n4 The concern expressed by JUSTICE GINSBURG, ante, at 1, is
misguided because an affirmance in these cases would not expand the coverage of
the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act but would preserve the
Federal Government's ability to bring criminal prosecutions for violent conduct
that was, until today, prohibited by the Hobbs Act.
I respectfully dissent.