320 U.S. 543 (1944), 71, United States v. Laudani

Docket Nº:No. 71
Citation:320 U.S. 543, 64 S.Ct. 315, 88 L.Ed. 300
Party Name:United States v. Laudani
Case Date:January 03, 1944
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 543

320 U.S. 543 (1944)

64 S.Ct. 315, 88 L.Ed. 300

United States

v.

Laudani

No. 71

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 3, 1944

Argued December 16, 1943

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The Kickback Act of June 13, 1934, which provides that "whoever" shall induce any person employed on any federally financed work

to give up any part of the compensation to which he is entitled under his contract of employment, by force, intimidation, threat of procuring dismissal from such employment, or by any other manner whatsoever,

shall be subject to the penalty therein prescribed, held applicable to a company foreman who had authority to hire and discharge subordinates whom he, on his own behalf and for his own benefit, compelled to surrender a portion of their wages. P. 547.

134 F.2d 847 reversed.

Certiorari, post, p. 720, to review the reversal of a conviction of violation of the federal Kickback Act.

Page 544

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Indictments returned in a United States District Court in New Jersey charged that [64 S.Ct. 316] the respondent Laudani, while acting as a company foreman with authority to employ and discharge workers on a public works project financed in part by the United States, had, contrary to Section 1 of an Act of June 13, 1943,1 forced certain of his subordinates to give him part of their wages in order to keep their jobs. Laudani moved to quash assigning as one ground that the indictments failed to charge conduct prohibited by this Act, since they did not contain allegations that he was the employer of the coerced men or that he had acted as agent of the employer in forcing the payments. The gist of his contention was that the prohibition of the Act extends only to employers and persons who act in concert with them. The District Court concluded that the Act applied to a foreman such as Laudani, overruled his motion, and a jury convicted him. The Circuit Court of Appeals accepted Laudani's contention, reversed the judgment, and directed that the indictments be quashed. 134 F.2d 847. The public importance of the question presented prompted us to grant certiorari.

Both the language and history of the Kickback Act argue against the conclusion that Congress intended its prohibition to apply only to employers, and not to foremen, who exercise many of the powers of employers. The Act

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punishes "whoever" shall induce any person employed on a federally financed work

to give up any part of the compensation to which he is entitled under his contract of employment, by force, intimidation, threat of procuring dismissal from such employment, or by any other manner whatsoever.2

The sweep of the word "whoever," if that word stood alone, would be wide enough to include not only an employer, but any other person. And the coercive methods of inducement expressly prohibited by the Act are methods in which at least some persons other than employers could engage without legal cause or excuse.

The Circuit Court of Appeals pointed out, however, that, if the word "whoever" be given its broadest scope, the Act might include common blackmailers who have no relationship to their victims' employment. In an effort to avoid what it considered to be such an extreme application of the Act, the Court focused attention on the clause "to give up any part of the compensation to which he is entitled under his contract of employment." Viewing this clause as proof that the purpose of Congress was to protect the employees' contractual rights to receive wages from their employer, the Court reasoned that no one but the employer or one acting on his behalf possessed "the requisite privity of contract" with the employees to be capable of impairing these rights. Having thus emphasized the Congressional reference to a "contract of employment," the Court stated broadly that

What happens to the compensation after the employee has received it in full, and wholly without relation to or effect upon his contract of employment, is a matter with which this statute does not purport to deal.

The Court's statement might have been pertinent had the indictments here been against a common blackmailer, extortioner, or some other person not alleged to have been

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vested by the employer with power to fix and terminate the employer-employee status. But we think that the coerced surrender of wages by employees at the instance of a company foreman given authority by his employer to hire and discharge them cannot properly be said to bear no relation to,...

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