News Release

April 29, 2024
Supreme Court Agrees To Review Civil RICO's Scope

Question Presented:

Whether economic harms resulting from personal injuries are encompassed by civil RICO
"The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether forum-shopping plaintiffs should be allowed to avoid state tort reform laws by transforming ordinary personal injury claims into civil RICO treble-damages suits."
Atlantic Legal Foundation
On April 29 the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Medical Marijuana, Inc. v. Horn, No. 23-365, a case presenting the question of whether civil RICO encompasses claims for alleged economic harms resulting from personal injuries.

Recognizing the importance of this civil justice issue, the Atlantic Legal Foundation, joined by the DRI Center for Law and Public Policy, were the only organizations last November that filed an amicus brief urging the Court to review the case.

Case Background

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) authorizes the filing of civil suits for treble damages and attorney fees by “[a]ny person injured in his business or property by reason of” engaging in certain prohibited activities. 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c). RICO was enacted as a prosecutorial tool for fighting organized crime. The Second and Ninth Circuits have held, however, that a civil RICO treble-damages claim can be filed for lost wages or other employment-related economic injuries resulting from a personal injury—such as in a product liability case—even though it is well settled that personal injury claims themselves are excluded from civil RICO.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers have seized upon these holdings, with which at least three other circuits disagree, to attempt to transform ordinary product liability suits into civil RICO actions. Civil RICO’s broad venue and jurisdictional provisions enable plaintiffs to “forum shop” to courts that allow such personal injury-related civil RICO claims, and thereby not only seek treble damages, but also circumvent various States’ tort reform measures.

Horn v. Medical Marijuana, Inc. is a seemingly ordinary product liability suit involving a legal, non-psychoactive, CBD wellness product. The Second Circuit held, however, that the truck driver plaintiff, who lost his job after ingesting the product and then failing a routine drug test, can maintain a civil RICO claim for lost wages and other employment-related economic harm against the product’s producers. The defendants filed a certiorari petition requesting the Supreme Court to rule that civil RICO claims do not encompass economic harms resulting from personal injuries. The Court now has agreed to hear the case.

Amicus Brief

The ALF/DRI amicus brief argued that the Supreme Court should grant certiorari and reverse the Second Circuit to deter forum-shopping plaintiffs from circumventing state tort reform laws, and depriving corporate defendants of due process, by transforming product liability suits into civil RICO treble-damages actions. Civil RICO’s expansive venue provision allows plaintiffs to sue practically anywhere, including in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions. Allowing such suits would greatly exacerbate the already skyrocketing costs of product liability litigation, and adversely affect product innovation and the public.

The petition-stage amicus brief was authored by Sarah Elizabeth Spencer of Spencer Willson, PLLC and ALF Executive Vice President & General Counsel Larry Ebner. Valuable input also was provided by Joe HollingsworthBill Cople, and Elyse Shimada of Hollingsworth LLP.

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Media Contact: Larry Ebner | Tel: 202-349-1421
About the Atlantic Legal Foundation

For more than 47 years, the Atlantic Legal Foundation, a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest law firm, has advocated in the Supreme Court, federal courts of appeals, and state appellate courts for individual liberty, free enterprise, property rights, limited & responsible government, sound science in judicial & regulatory proceedings, and effective education, including parental rights and school choice.
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