Any person injured in his or her business or property by a pattern of racketeering activity may have standing to seek relief pursuant to the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. The statute, more commonly known as the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, contains provisions permitting prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice and provisions permitting the pursuit of a civil action to recover damages by the victim or victims.
RICO prohibits a "person," whether an individual, corporation or another entity recognized by law, from acquiring control of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, or from conducting the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity.
The crimes are defined by the RICO statute and are called "predicate acts."
Predicate acts include murder, attempted murder, extortion, mail fraud, wire fraud, and bribery of union officials under the Labor Management Relations Act. When a defendant has engaged in two or more predicate acts to accomplish a "scheme," or a planned effort to accomplish a goal, the RICO Act may have been violated.
Typically, a plaintiff must prove that he or she has been injured by the defendant's direction of predicate acts to acquire control of an otherwise legitimate enterprise or injured by the defendant's conduct of the enterprise's affairs to accomplish his or her crimes. Relief is also available under RICO where defendants "conspire" to violate the act.
When a plaintiff successfully proves that their business or property has been injured by a violation of the RICO Act, they are entitled to many remedies. Most prominently, they are entitled to compensation for the value of the damage "trebled." This means that if a racketeer has burned a building worth $100,000 as part of a pattern of racketeering acts, the plaintiff is entitled to three times the value, or $300,000. Beyond treble damages, the plaintiff is entitled to reimbursement for all attorney fees and costs.
It is common for plaintiffs in RICO actions to supplement their federal claim with state claims. These claims are generally permitted to proceed along with the RICO claim, where the plaintiff is able to substantiate the allegations.
Civil RICO actions are litigated in similar fashion to other lawsuits. After a complaint is filed, the defendants typically file a motion to dismiss the complaint or an answer to the complaint. In these suits, defendants may file a request for a civil RICO "case statement" seeking further definition of the allegations, particularly where the plaintiff alleged generalities.
RICO defendants also ask the courts to "stay" or prohibit discovery when a motion to dismiss is pending, arguing that if the dismissal is ordered, they should not be required to go through the expense of responding to discovery requests.
This relief may be ordered by the court, but it does impose a delay, which most courts do not favor. If the request is denied, discovery begins and typically involves requests for sworn answers to questions, production of documents that may be relevant to the case and then depositions of witnesses. This process typically requires a significant period of time.
At the conclusion of discovery, the parties file motions for summary judgment, asking the court to grant a verdict based on the uncontested issues of fact and the law. If the court denies all summary judgments, the case will be scheduled for trial.
Different judges have different tolerances for delay, and it is possible for civil RICO actions, and all litigation, to endure for long periods.
Mark Carter is an attorney for Dinsmore & Shohl, of Cincinnati. He is the past management chair of the antitrust, RICO and labor law committee of the American Bar Association.