Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc. (537 U.S. 393)

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Scheidler v. National Organization for Women (537 U.S. 393)  (2003) 

Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc., 537 U.S. 393 (2003), is a United States Supreme Court case involving the rights of women and women's health clinics to obtain and provide services free from the threat of violence. National Organization for Women (NOW) obtained class status for women seeking the use of women's health clinics and began its court battle against Joseph Scheidler and PLAN et al. in 1986. In this particular case, the court's opinion was that extortion did not apply to the defendants' actions because they did not obtain any property from the respondents (NOW and the class of women).

Court Documents
Concurring Opinion
Dissenting Opinion

Supreme Court of the United States

537 U.S. 393

Scheidler et al.  v.  National Organization for Women, Inc., et al.

Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

No. 04-1244  Argued: December 4, 2002 --- Decided: February 26, 2003[1]

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).


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. 400–410.

(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 [p. 394] 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, 435 U.S. 371, 378, and to carefully define the Act's key terms, including "extortion," id., at 373. Thus, while coercion and extortion overlap to the extent that extortion necessarily involves the use of coercive conduct to obtain property, there has been and continues to be a recognized difference between these two crimes. Because the Hobbs Act is a criminal statute, it must be strictly construed, and any ambiguity must be resolved in favor of lenity. Enmons, supra, at 411. Culbert, supra, at 373, distinguished. If the distinction between extortion and coercion, which controls these cases, is to be abandoned, such a significant expansion of the law's coverage must come from Congress, not from the courts. Pp. 400–409.

(b) This Court's determination as to Hobbs Act extortion renders insufficient the other bases or predicate acts of racketeering supporting [p. 395] the jury's conclusion that petitioners violated RICO. In accordance with this Court's decisions in Nardello and Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, where as here the Model Penal Code and a majority of States recognize 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 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 violations of the Travel Act and attempts to violate that Act also fail. These acts were committed in furtherance of allegedly extortionate conduct, but petitioners did not commit or attempt to commit extortion. Pp. 409–410.

2. Without an underlying RICO violation, the District Court's injunction must necessarily be vacated. The Court therefore need not address the second question presented—whether a private plaintiff in a civil RICO action is entitled to injunctive relief under §1964(c). P. 411.

267 F.3d 687, reversed.

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Breyer, J., joined, post, p. 411. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 412.

Roy T. Englert, Jr., argued the cause for petitioners in both cases. On the briefs in No. 01–1118 were Alan Untereiner, Arnon D. Siegel, Kathryn S. Zecca, Sherri Lynn Wolson, Thomas Brejcha, Deborah Fischer, and D. Colette Wilson. On the brief in No. 01–1119 were Jay Alan Sekulow, Colby M. May, Stuart J. Roth, James M. Henderson, Sr., Vincent P. McCarthy, Walter M. Weber, Larry L. Crain, David A. Cortman, Robert W. Ash, Thomas P. Monaghan, and Charles E. Rice.

Solicitor General Olson argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Assistant Attorney General Chertoff, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, Lisa Schiavo Blatt, and Frank J. Marine.

[p. 396] Fay Clayton argued the cause for respondents. With her on the brief were Susan Valentine, Joyce A. Pollack, Lowell E. Sachnoff, A. Stephen Hut, Jr., David W. Ogden, Terry A. Maroney, and Kimberly A. Parker.[2]


  1. . Together with No. 01–1119, Operation Rescue v. National Organization for Women, Inc., et al., also on certiorari to the same court.
  2. . Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Alabama et al. by William H. Pryor, Jr., Attorney General of Alabama, and Charles B. Campbell, Deputy Solicitor General, and by the Attorneys General for their respective jurisdictions as follows: Don Stenberg of Nebraska, Wayne Stenehjem of North Dakota, Mark Barnett of South Dakota, and Robert Torres of the Northern Mariana Islands; for Americans United for Life by Nikolas T. Nikas, Denise M. Burke, Dorinda C. Bordlee, and G. Robert Blakey; for Catholics for Life, Sacramento, by James Joseph Lynch, Jr.; for the Center for Individual Rights by Michael E. Rosman; for Concerned Women for America by Theresa Schrempp and Mark L. Lorbiecki; for Liberty Counsel by Mathew D. Staver; for the Life Legal Defense Foundation by Andrew W. Zepeda and Catherine W. Short; for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers by William J. Mertens; for the New York Council of Defense Lawyers by Richard A. Greenberg, Karl E. Pflanz, and Victor J. Rocco; for the Rutherford Institute by Jamin B. Raskin, John W. Whitehead, and Steven H. Aden; and for the Seamless Garment Network et al. by Edward McGlynn Gaffney, Jr., William W. Bassett, G. Robert Blakey, Angela C. Carmella, Robert A. Destro, Marie A. Failinger, Victor Gregory Rosenblum, and Gerald F. Uelmen.

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.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

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