Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc.

PETITIONER: Scheidler
RESPONDENT: National Organization for Women, Inc.
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 01-1118
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 537 US 393 (2003)
ARGUED: Dec 04, 2002
DECIDED: Feb 26, 2003

ADVOCATES:
Fay Clayton - Argued the cause for the respondents
Roy T. Englert, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Roy T. Englert, Jr. - argued the cause for petitioners in both cases
Theodore B. Olson - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

The National Organization for Women, Inc. (NOW) filed a class action alleging that certain individuals and organizations that oppose legal abortion violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) 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. Ultimately, the District Court entered a permanent nationwide injunction against the abortion opponents. Upholding the injunction, the Court of Appeals held, in part, that the things abortion supporters claimed were extorted from them, such as women's right to seek medical services from the clinics and the clinic doctors' rights to perform their jobs, constituted "property" that was "obtained" for purposes of the Hobbs Act. (Together with No. 01-1119, Operation Rescue v. National Organization for Women.)

Question

Do abortion opponents, who protest at abortion clinics, commit extortion within the meaning of the Hobbs Act? May abortion supporters obtain injunctive relief in a civil action pursuant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act?

Media for Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 04, 2002 in Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 26, 2003 in Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 01-1118, Joseph Scheidler versus the National Organization for Women and a companion case.

The respondents, the National Organization for Women and two health care centers that perform abortions filed suit against petitioners, the Pro-life Action Network Joseph Scheidler and others that oppose legal abortion.

Respondents alleged that petitioners violated the Civil Provisions of the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO by participating in a nationwide conspiracy to shut down abortion clinics.

Our jury found that petitioners violated RICO by conducting a pattern of racketeering activity that included violations of the Hobbs Act, state extortion law, and the Travel Act.

The jury awarded damages to the clinics and the District Court entered a permanent nationwide injunction against petitioner.

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

The Court concluded that petitioners had committed extortion as prohibited by the Hobbs Act.

We granted certiorari to answer two questions: first, whether petitioners committed extortion within the meaning of the Hobbs Act?

Second, whether private litigants may obtain injunctive relief in the civil RICO action.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk of the Court today, we reverse the decision of the Seventh Circuit.

We hold the petitioners did not commit extortion because they did not obtain property from respondents as required by the Hobbs Act.

We further hold that this determination renders insufficient the other predicate acts supporting the jury’s finding the petitioners violated RICO.

Therefore, we do not reach the question of injunctive relief under RICO.

The Hobbs 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.

Congress used two sources of law as models in formulating the Act.

The Penal Code of New York and the Field Code, a 19th Century model Penal Code.

Both sources define extortion as the obtaining of property from another.

New York’s obtaining requirement entailed both a deprivation of the owner and an acquisition by the defendant of property.

We have likewise construed the extortion provisions of the Hobbs Act to require both the deprivation and the acquisition of property.

There is no dispute that petitioners interfered with disrupted and in some instances deprived respondents of their ability to exercise their property rights.

But even when petitioners achieve their goal of shutting down a clinic that performed abortions they did not commit extortion because they did not obtain respondents’ property.

To conclude otherwise, would effectively discard the statutory requirement that property must be obtained from another replacing with a notion that merely interfering with or depriving someone of property is sufficient to constitute extortion.

With this distinction clearly drawn, Congress’ decision to include extortion as a violation of the Hobbs Act and omit coercion which is a related offense is significant here as is the fact that the Acts predecessor, the Anti Racketeering Act prohibited both crimes.

The omission of coercion is particularly significant given that a paramount congressional concern and drafting the Hobbs Act back in 1946 was to be clear about what conduct was prohibited and to carefully define the Act’s key terms.

Thus, while coercion and extortion overlap, there has been and continues to be a recognized difference between these crimes and because the Hobbs Act is Criminal Statute, it must be strictly construed and any ambiguity must be resolved in favor or lenity.

We also hope that our determination of the Hobbs Act extortion renders insufficient the other predicate Acts of racketeering supporting the jury’s conclusion that petitioners violated RICO.

Whereas, here the model Penal Code and the majority of States recognized 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 petitioner did not obtain or attempt to obtain a respondents property, the State extortion claims were fatally flawed.

Likewise, the Travel Act violations which were committed in furtherance of extortionate conduct failed because petitioners did not commit extortion.

Because this predicate Acts supporting the juries finding of a RICO violation must be reversed, the judgment of petitioners violated RICO must also be reversed.