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Scheidler v. National Organization for Women

February 26, 2003

JOSEPH SCHEIDLER, ANDREW SCHOLBERG, TIMOTHY MURPHY, AND THE PRO-LIFE ACTION LEAGUE, INC., PETITIONERS
v.
NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN, INC., ET AL.
OPERATION RESCUE, PETITIONER
v.
NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN, INC., ET AL.



Court Below: 267 F. 3d 687

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Argued December 4, 2002

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 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).

Held:

1. 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. 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, 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 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. 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 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, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Rehnquist

on writs of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

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 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,*fn1 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.*fn2 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 (1994), and so we recount only those details necessary to address the questions here presented.

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.*fn3

The District Court dismissed respondents' RICO claims for 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 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 their patients.

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 be considered `property' under the Hobbs Act." 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." 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 "rea[d] 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,*fn4 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 "giv[ing] up" these alleged property rights or the Court of Appeals' holding that "interfer[ing] with such rights" with the requirement that petitioners "obtain[ed] ... property from" them, respondents have shifted the thrust of their theory. 267 F. 3d, at 267. Respondents now assert that petitioners violated the Hobbs Act by "seeking to get control of the use and disposition of respondents' property." Brief for ...


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