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What a Recent Headline-Making Civil Rico Ruling Can Teach if You’ve Been Sued for Racketeering in Georgia

Poole Huffman, LLC

If you operate a business long enough, you’re almost certain to be sued at some point. Sometimes, those civil suits may present scary and intimidating causes of action, such as accusing you and your business of engaging in racketeering activity. While they may seem unnerving to you, they are often, in the eye of an experienced Atlanta civil RICO lawyer, clearly insufficient. With the right legal team on your side, you may very possibly be able to get these kinds of insufficient claims dismissed at the outset.

Fans of the TV medical drama House may remember a recurring bit based upon the disease lupus. When the younger doctors would (frequently) suggest that a particularly confounding case was lupus, Dr. House almost always rejected the diagnosis by stating either “it’s not lupus” or “it’s never lupus.” Many times, a RICO claim in a civil lawsuit is a bit like a lupus diagnosis on House. To the less familiar, a set of facts might seem to point in that direction. The more experienced, however, recognize why it’s not.

A recent RICO case from the world of sports, reported by ESPN, makes for a good illustration. B.B., the plaintiff, was a star high school player who was recruited to play at a major Atlantic Coast Conference university. At that time, many observers believed that B.B. would eventually be selected in the first round of the NBA draft when he entered the professional basketball ranks.

Also around that time, the university (and the athletic shoe company with which it was affiliated) were under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. After the FBI published a report detailing alleged payments made to B.B.’s family, the university suspended him from all athletic activities. B.B. eventually entered the NBA draft in 2019, but was not selected at all, later signing a free agent contract.

B.B. sued the shoe company and others, including a RICO claim in the lawsuit.

The Player’s RICO Claim Was Missing a Key Ingredient

In a civil RICO action, the plaintiff has to allege at least two predicate acts. B.B. had those, alleging fraud, bribery, and money laundering.

Another very fundamental thing the plaintiff has to have in a civil RICO claim is proof that they were “injured in [their] business or property” by the RICO violation, and this was where the player’s case fell apart.

The player’s allegation was that the fraud, bribery, and money laundering in which the shoe company and others allegedly engaged harmed his draft prospects and cost him large sums of money. The problem was that his high draft selection and lucrative professional contract, which he allegedly lost due to the defendants’ acts of racketeering, were expectations and nothing more. They were not rights or guarantees, which meant they were not things in which B.B. had a recognizable business or property interest. That meant B.B. did not have standing to pursue his RICO claim.

Other Substantial Flaws that Exist in Many Civil RICO Claims

A lack of standing due to failure to identify a recognized property or business interest is just one area where civil RICO claims may often fall short. Another one is the “enterprise” requirement. Most civil RICO claims assert a violation of Section 1962(c) of the statute. That section requires proof of “conduct of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity.” Under caselaw decisions published by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings directly control federal cases in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama,) if a plaintiff sues your business entity but also alleges that the business entity was the enterprise itself, this fails to satisfy the law. The RICO enterprise alleged in the complaint must be distinct from the entity the plaintiff has sued.

Additionally, the “pattern” requirement” can be a problem for some Georgia plaintiffs. The law requires a pattern that demonstrates continuity over a substantial length of time. A pattern that lasts only several months is often not sufficiently continuous to meet the law’s standards, and such a short duration may be something you can use to obtain a dismissal.

When you have been sued in a case asserting a RICO claim, selecting an attorney with the right experience is key. Litigating these cases is different. Assessing the value of settling versus litigating is different. Count on the knowledgeable Atlanta civil RICO attorneys at Poole Huffman, LLC and our extensive experience handling these unique cases to provide you with the effective legal representation you need. Contact our attorneys online or by calling 404-373-4008 to schedule your confidential consultation.

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