The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, otherwise known as RICO, has been a fear of gangsters and organized crime since the Act was signed into law by President Nixon in 1970. This federal law has served as a governmental weapon to shut down crime syndicates from the leadership on down. RICO has given the government the ability to link the actions of criminal subordinates to their superiors, preventing the big-bosses from escaping prosecution for the crimes they ordered but took no part in committing.
Forty-four years later, the law that started out tackling organized crime has expanded its reach beyond the likes of such defendants as John “Teflon Don” Gotti. The less notable version of RICO is its use in the civil arena, allowing plaintiffs to target corporations and international businesses for injury to commercial interests caused by the conduct constituting the Act’s violation. However, some legal scholars are weary of such use, dealing with claims that have nothing to do with the laws original purpose, organized crime. Yet the appealing nature of using RICO to go after non-criminal entities far outweighs such concerns for some crafty plaintiffs. Should plaintiffs be successful in a civil RICO claim, the results are the baseball equivalent of hitting a “grand-slam”, allowing recovery of triple the amount of damages suffered.
Recently, the plaintiffs in Aaron v. Durrani, S.D.Ohio No. 1:13-CV-202, 2014 WL 996471 (Mar. 13, 2014) attempted to knock one out of the park, cloaking their claims of medical malpractice and products liability in RICO attire. With at least seven complaints consolidated into one case and over ninety plaintiffs, the sole count alleged racketeering violations against the defendants under RICO. Unfortunately for these plaintiffs, Southern District Court of Ohio Judge Timothy Black was not impressed with plaintiffs’ claims when he issued the court’s Order and Opinion dismissing the case.
After starting off explaining that the plaintiffs were only seeking recovery for state law personal injury claims, Judge Black quotes, verbatim, the Sixth Circuit’s recent decision in Jackson v. Sedgwick, 731 F.3d 556 (6th Cir.2013), that expresses the inappropriateness of the claim, “Simply stated, RICO ‘”is not a means for federalizing personal injury tort claims arising under state law.’” Id. at 568-69. This was later elaborated on noting that the plaintiffs’ injuries did not fit the RICO requirement that injuries were to either business or property. Plaintiffs only claimed damages stemming from surgeries performed by the defendant doctor are “the exact same damages Plaintiffs seek to recover in their separately filed medical malpractice actions.” After citing to approximately ten different cases, Judge Black thoroughly explained why RICO was not intended to recover these damages. Strike one.
Judge Black also points out why the plaintiffs’ claims do not fit into the requirements for a RICO case. Judge Black explains that if such cases were allowed to go forward, medical malpractice committed by hospitals and physicians would be tantamount to a racketeering activity. One quick look at the RICO statutes extensive list of racketeering activities shows how this does not fit: gambling, murder, kidnapping, extortion, arson, robbery, bribery, etc. Judge Black’s comment sums up the concept, “This is nonsense.” Strike two.
Finally, the failure of the plaintiffs’ claims went beyond the substantive flaws and into procedural errors. Judge Black points out that while complaints are required to be “a short and plain statement,” the plaintiffs’ complaint was “virtually incomprehensible.” Even with 967 paragraphs of factual summaries, the court found the complaint still failed to place the defendants on notice of what they had allegedly done wrong, “Plaintiffs have never alleged facts supporting the existence of a plausible claim under RICO or Ohio RICO. Plaintiffs’ latest clumsy attempt to repackage medical malpractice and products liability claims is without any plausible basis, notwithstanding its prolixity” Strike Three…you’re out.
While RICO claims have changed since 1970, the Southern District of Ohio put its proverbial foot down on the statute’s applicability to medical malpractice and products liability cases. The opinion of the court should serve as a stern warning to any future plaintiffs hoping to use a civil RICO action for such claims.