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,
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.
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
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
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,
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,
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 (1990); Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 263 (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 W. 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 (1992) (emphasis deleted). While
Congress used two sources of law as models in formulating the Hobbs Act: the Penal Code of New York and the Field Code, a 19th-century model penal code. See Evans, supra, at 261-262, n. 9.
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 rights. Likewise, petitioners' counsel readily acknowledged at oral argument that aspects of his clients' conduct were criminal.
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.
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.
Several years after the enactment of the Anti-Racketeering Act, this Court decided United States v. Teamsters, 315 U.S. 521 (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.
We have said that the words of the Hobbs Act "do not lend themselves to restrictive interpretation" because they "`manifes[t] ... 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 (1960)). We have also said, construing the Hobbs Act in Enmons, supra, at 411:
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 commerce. Their argument is that
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 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.
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.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is accordingly
JUSTICE GINSBURG, with whom JUSTICE BREYER joins, concurring.
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 417 (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 404-405, and n. 9 (noting petitioners' acknowledgment that at least some of the protesters' conduct was criminal, and observing that "[t]he 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.
RICO, which empowers both prosecutors and private enforcers, imposes severe criminal penalties and hefty civil liability
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 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 the record.
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).
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
In my opinion Judge Kearse's analysis of the issue is manifestly 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
I respectfully dissent.
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of California et al. by Bill Lockyer, Attorney General of California, Manuel M. Medeiros, Solicitor General, Richard M. Frank, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Mary E. Hackenbracht, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Helen G. Arens, Deputy Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General of New York, Caitlin J. Halligan, Solicitor General, and Daniel J. Chepaitis, Assistant Solicitor General, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, J. Joseph Curran, Jr., of Maryland, Thomas F. Reilly of Massachusetts, Mike McGrath of Montana, Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada, Christine O. Gregoire of Washington, and Darrell V. McGraw, Jr., of West Virginia; for the American Medical Association et al. by William A. Norris, Michael C. Small, and Sandra M. Lee; for the Feminist Majority Foundation et al. by Steven G. Gey; for Former Federal Prosecutors et al. by Maria T. Vullo; for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law by Joseph R. Bankoff, Thomas Henderson, and Nancy Anderson; for Motorola Credit Corp. by Charles G. Cole, Howard H. Stahl, and Bruce C. Bishop; for the NARAL Foundation/NARAL et al. by Amy E. Weissman, Sara N. Love, and Lawrence S. Ottinger; and for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice et al. by George R. Kucik and Bonnie J. Campbell.
Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Inc., by Raymond J. LaJeunesse, Jr.; for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc., by Jeffrey S. Kerr and Craig M. Bradley; for Texas Black Americans for Life et al. by Lawrence J. Joyce; and for Emily Lyons by Pamela L. Sumners.
. . . . .
"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 lawful here.
"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 Arg. 8-9.
"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."
"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 citations omitted).
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 405 (majority opinion); ante, at 411 (GINSBURG, J., concurring).