A federal judge has denied a motion to dismiss a 3-year-old racketeering lawsuit against the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) stemming from its long labor dispute with tire and wheel maker Titan International Inc.
Judge Jeanne E. Scott of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois in Springfield ruled July 31 against the USWA. The union had asked for the dismissal based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year in a case alleging a group of anti-abortion activists violated the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act back in 1986.
It was the second denial of a motion to dismiss from the USWA, the first being in October 2001.
Quincy, Ill.-based Titan filed its original $240 million suit in September 2000 against the USWA, 130 individuals-including its highest-ranking officers and many members-several district offices and 100 ``John Doe'' defendants.
The lawsuit alleges the USWA and its members ``implemented a massive conspiracy to extort money'' and conspired ``to receive income from a pattern of racketeering activity'' against Titan.
The two sides were embroiled in a bitter labor dispute-including the two longest strikes in tire industry history-from 1998-2001.
In the suit, Titan alleges USWA members made bomb threats, committed acts of physical violence and property damage, filed baseless workers' compensation claims and interfered with Titan's business relations.
The USWA has maintained the lawsuit is frivolous and was an act of retaliation against the union following the long strikes.
In its Feb. 26 ruling in the anti-abortion case-Scheidler v. Na-tional Organization for Women (NOW)-the Supreme Court overturned earlier district and appeals court decisions in favor of NOW and two abortion clinics.
The Court said the anti-abortion acts committed by the defendants did not meet the legal definition of extortion that would have meant a RICO Act violation.
The USWA argued that, based on the Scheidler decision, the act of extortion as alleged in its case must be given a uniform generic meaning rather than various meanings state-to-state, and under the definitions applied to the RICO Act, the defendants' conduct did not constitute extortion.
Judge Scott, however, said the statutes of the states relevant to the case-Iowa, Illinois and Mississippi-defining extortion were appropriately applied to the RICO suit.
Each of the statutes defining extortion included the requirement that the defendants ``obtain property'' through their actions, yet in the Scheidler case being cited as precedent, the defendants obtained nothing, Judge Scott's order said.
Maurice Taylor Jr., Titan president and CEO, remains committed to seeing the lawsuit through. ``Employees, stockholders and Titan customers were all injured by the unlawful activities of the defendants, and we must persist in our effort to reclaim what was lost,'' he said.
Under federal racketeering laws a RICO suit can carry treble damages, meaning a victory for Titan could be worth as much as $720 million.