Tafflin v. Levitt/Concurrence White

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Justice WHITE, concurring.

I agree that state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over civil RICO actions and join the opinion and judgment of the Court. I add a few words only because this Court has rarely considered contentions that civil actions based on federal criminal statutes must be heard by the federal courts. As the Court observes ante, at 465, the uniform construction of federal criminal statutes is no insignificant matter, particularly because Congress has recognized potential dangers in nonuniform construction and has confined jurisdiction over federal criminal cases to the federal courts. There is, therefore, reason for caution before concluding that state courts have jurisdiction over civil claims related to federal criminal statutes and for assessing in each case the danger to federal interests presented by potential inconsistent constructions of federal criminal statutes.

RICO is an unusual federal criminal statute. It borrows heavily from state law; racketeering activity is defined in terms of numerous offenses chargeable under state law, 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1)(A), as well as various federal offenses. To the extent that there is any danger under RICO of nonuniform construction of criminal statutes, it is quite likely that the damage will result from federal misunderstanding of the content of state law-a problem, to be sure, but not one to be solved by exclusive federal jurisdiction. Many of the federal offenses named as racketeering activity under RICO have close, though perhaps not exact, state-law analogues, cf. Durland v. United States, 161 U.S. 306, 312, 16 S.Ct. 508, 510, 40 L.Ed. 709 (1896), which construed the federal mail fraud statute, and it is unlikely that the state courts will be incompetent to construe those federal statutes. Nor does incorrect state-court construction of those statutes present as significant a threat to federal interests as that posed by improper interpretation of the federal antitrust laws, which could have a disastrous effect on interstate commerce, a particular concern of the Federal Government. Racketeering activity as defined by RICO includes other federal offenses without state-law analogues, but given the history as written until now of civil RICO litigation, I doubt that state-court construction of these offenses will be greatly disruptive of important federal interests.

There is also the possibility that the state courts will disrupt the uniform construction of criminal RICO by launching new interpretations of the "pattern" and "enterprise" elements of that offense when hearing civil RICO suits. This possibility, though not insubstantial, cf. H.J. Inc. v. North- western Bell Telephone Co., 429 U.S. 229, 109 S.Ct. 2893, 106 L.Ed.2d 195 (1989), is not enough to require exclusive federal jurisdiction of civil RICO claims. Even though varying interpretations of the "pattern" and "enterprise" elements of RICO may drastically change the consequences that flow from particular acts, these variations cannot make an act criminal in one court system but blameless in another and therefore do not implicate the core due process concerns identified by the Court, ante, at 464, as underlying the need for uniform construction of criminal statutes. Moreover, we have the authority to reduce the risk of, and to set aside, incorrect interpretations of these elements of RICO liability.


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).