A recent RICO claim in federal court, tossed following a motion to dismiss, contains some useful lessons for both plaintiffs and defendants. For potential plaintiffs, it is important to understand that not every wrong that involved a collective of people acting in concert is a civil RICO violation, and if what harmed you was a possible RICO case, success almost never begins with a vague, bare-bones complaint. For businesses who find themselves on the receiving end of such a complaint, it is equally important to recognize the many exacting pleading requirements the law imposes and that those requirements may be the key to getting that RICO claim dismissed early in the litigation process. Whichever side you’re on, a RICO claim should be undertaken or opposed with paramount seriousness and diligence. If your case involves such a cause of action, make sure you’ve consulted with an Atlanta civil RICO lawyer experienced and well-versed in this area of the law.
The federal case involved S.S., a Black woman who delivered a local newspaper in Jonesboro, Ark. She allegedly suffered racial discrimination when her employer illegally underpaid her while paying two White colleagues the proper rate. On that basis, she sued, presenting claims for discrimination under federal and Arkansas law. She also included a civil RICO claim.
The employer opposed the RICO claim and the trial court swiftly dismissed it. Earlier this month, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals summarily upheld that decision.
The federal RICO statute says that a civil RICO violation occurs when there’s been the conduct of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity resulting in harm. Section 1961 defines a RICO “enterprise” as “any individual, partnership, corporation, association or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity.” While the courts generally interpret this pleading requirement broadly, there is one thing that all federal appeals courts (including the 11th Circuit) agree upon: when a civil RICO plaintiff pleads a case under Section 1962(c) of the statute, the enterprise that plaintiff asserts cannot also be one of the defendants.
An entity can be a defendant and part of a larger association-in-fact enterprise, but not the enterprise itself. So say, for example, the plaintiff alleges that XYZ Corp. was the RICO enterprise and also names XYZ Corp. as the defendant. That’s a possible basis upon which you can attack that RICO claim.
The “pattern of racketeering activity” requirement demands numerous acts of misconduct occurring over a protracted period of time. A plaintiff can meet this obligation by asserting a pattern that demonstrates what the law calls “closed-ended continuity,” which is a “series of related predicates extending over a substantial period of time”, or “open-ended continuity,” which is conduct “that by its nature projects into the future with a threat of repetition.”
S.S.’s court papers fell well short of what the law requires. She merely alleged broadly that the defendants engaged in an enterprise “for the purpose of performing illegal acts.”
A successful civil RICO complaint must include far more in terms of specifics and details regarding how the defendants’ allegedly illegal conduct met all the elements that the statute demands. As the court said in throwing out S.S.’s claim, “such boilerplate language is insufficient to show a pattern of racketeering activity.”
Whether you’re pursuing or defending a RICO claim, you need legal counsel with the right experience. The knowledgeable Atlanta civil RICO attorneys at Poole Huffman, LLC possess that critical background, including RICO trial experience. For answers to your questions, contact our team online or by calling (404) 373-4008 to schedule your confidential consultation today.