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RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) - Civil Remedies

suits actions ordinary enterprise

In addition to these criminal law provisions, RICO also authorizes civil suits, both by the government and by private individuals who are economically injured by a RICO violation. (Somewhat curiously, no provision is made for suits by plaintiffs who were physically injured by racketeering acts.)

The government has found civil RICO to be a valuable tool against labor racketeering and other forms of criminal corruption. Once the government establishes that an enterprise has been the subject of RICO offenses, courts are permitted to enter wide-ranging equitable orders, including banning individuals from participating in the management of the enterprise, or reorganizing or even dissolving the enterprise itself. Unlike these provisions, corrupt labor unions have been ordered to democratize, and to operate under the supervision of court-appointed independent monitors with the power to investigate its affairs, and officials found to be corrupt or to have associated with organized crime have been banned from holding union office.

Private civil actions under RICO have become extremely common and extremely controversial. Unlike most ordinary civil suits, suits for violation of RICO permit recovery not merely of compensation for losses, but for treble damages and attorneys' fees. The attraction of these enhanced remedies, as well as of obtaining access to federal court, has led plaintiffs in ordinary business disputes to exercise considerable ingenuity to cast their claims not in ordinary terms of contract, tort, or common law fraud, but as violations of the federal mail, wire, bank, and securities fraud statutes, which are predicate acts under RICO. The broad coverage of these statutes permits many claims to be formulated in this fashion, leading to the escalation of many ordinary business disputes into "racketeering" cases. (Such claims became so widespread in the securities industry that Congress amended RICO in 1995 to prohibit civil suits based on securities fraud, except where the defendants had previously been criminally convicted.)

Civil RICO actions have also been brought against political activist groups, such as anti-abortion demonstrators and animal rights activists, whose tactics sometimes verge on or cross over into violence (National Organization for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, 510 U.S. 249 (1994)). Critics of such actions argue that the potential for imposing extensive litigation costs and treble damages on activists who may have a tenuous connection to actual perpetrators of violence, poses a threat to legitimate dissent. Defenders point out the violent activity is as dangerous in pursuit of a political enterprise as of an economic one, and that RICO actions can be an effective tool against organizations that encourage terrorism.

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