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Civil RICO Claims: Understanding The Judicial Interpretation Of ‘Pattern’ Requirement


Through a civil RICO lawsuit (federal or state), a plaintiff can take action to hold a defendant(s) legally responsible for damages caused by unlawful racketeering activity. The treble damages provision of the civil RICO statute allows a plaintiff that brings a successful claim to recover compensation worth three times their actual damages.

That being said, proving liability in a civil RICO case is a high bar. A plaintiff must prove more than mere fraud. There are specific elements that must be established. In this article, our Miami RICO claims lawyer provides a comprehensive overview of judicial interpretation of the required elements of a civil RICO claim: A pattern of racketeering activity.

A Plaintiff Must Prove a Pattern of Racketeering Activity to Establish Civil RICO Liability 

Civil RICO law holds that a plaintiff must prove that the defendant(s) engaged in “a pattern of racketeering activity” to impose liability. In other words, one-time fraud—even if that fraud otherwise meets the definition of racketeering—is not sufficient to prove liability in a RICO lawsuit. A pattern is a legally required element in both federal civil RICO and Florida civil RICO claims.

The Statutory Definition of a ‘Pattern’ in Civil RICO Claims 

Federal and state RICO laws define the term ‘pattern’ in a relatively broad manner. A pattern of racketeering activity requires at least two acts. While one-time fraud cannot meet the definition, two related acts of racketeering could constitute a pattern for the purposes of a civil RICO claim.

That being said, it is important to emphasize that a minimum of two acts is a necessary condition. It is not a sufficient condition. The two (or more) acts in question must be substantially related in order to constitute a civil RICO pattern.

Judicial Interpretation: What is a Pattern in a Civil RICO Case? 

The pattern element of civil RICO law has long been a challenging issue for both plaintiffs and defendants. The statutory definition is relatively vague—meaning federal and state courts rely on decades worth of judicial interpretation. One of the most instructive decisions comes from the 1985 Supreme Court case of Sedima, SPRL v. Imrex Co., Inc.  Although the nation’s highest court failed to construct a clear and operative definition of “pattern”, the judicial interpretation is clear: Proving two unrelated acts of racketeering activity is not enough to establish a pattern. To meet the pattern element of a civil RICO lawsuit, a plaintiff must be able to prove two things:

  1. There were multiple acts of racketeering activity; and
  2. At least two acts of racketeering activity were sufficiently related. 

Contact Our Miami, FL RICO Claims Attorney for Legal Advice

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, we have the specialized legal skills, knowledge, and expertise to handle civil RICO litigation. If you have any specific questions or concerns about the pattern element of a civil RICO lawsuit, our legal team is here as a resource. Call us now for a confidential case review. With offices in Miami, West Palm Beach, and Wellington we serve clients throughout South Florida.



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