335 F.Supp. 641 (E.D.La. 1971), Crim. 1918, United States v. Enmons

Docket Nº:Crim. 1918
Citation:335 F.Supp. 641
Party Name:United States v. Enmons
Case Date:December 16, 1971
Court:United States District Courts, 5th Circuit, Eastern District of Louisiana

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335 F.Supp. 641 (E.D.La. 1971)



Travis Paul ENMONS et al.

Crim. No. 1918.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana.

Dec. 16, 1971

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Gerald J. Gallinghouse, U. S. Atty., E. D. Louisiana, Julian R. Murray, Jr., Joseph R. McMahon, Jr., Asst. U. S. Attys., New Orleans, La., for the United States.

Sam J. D'Amico, D'Amico, Curet & Bush, Alex W. Wall, Dodd, Hirsch, Barker, Avant & Wall, Baton Rouge, La., for defendants.

E. GORDON WEST, Chief Judge:

Defendants have been indicted for alleged violations of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C.A. § 1951. They have moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that the acts alleged therein do not constitute a federal offense under that act.

Briefly stated, three of the defendants were members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union, Local 390, and one was a member of Local 2286 of the same union. The indictment charges them with conspiring to obstruct, delay, and affect commerce by extortion in violation of the Hobbs Act. The indictment particularly charges that:

"9. It was a part of said conspiracy that the defendants and the co-conspirators would obtain the property of the Gulf States Utilities Company in the form of wages and other things of value with the consent of the Gulf States Utilities Company, its officers and agents, such consent to be induced by the wrongful use of actual force, violence and fear of economic injury by said defendants and co-conspirators in that defendants and the co-conspirators did commit acts of physical violence and destruction against property owned by the Gulf States Utilities Company in order to force said Company to agree to a contract with Local 2286 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers calling for higher wages and other monetary benefits."

The indictment then charges the defendants with certain overt acts designed to cause the malfunctioning of transformers and to damage other property belonging to Gulf States Utilities Company. The defendants, in support of their motion to dismiss the indictment, take the position that the Hobbs Act, which makes it a federal crime to obstruct, delay, or affect interstate commerce by robbery or extortion, simply does not include

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acts of violence which might occur while employees are in the process of picketing an employer in furtherance of some lawful labor objective such as securing higher wages for persons employed by the employer pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement. The defendants would distinguish this type of violence from that which is designed to extract from an employer by violence or threats of violence, money or property for which nothing is given in return, and to which the extorter is not entitled, such as wages for unnecessary and unwanted employees. The defendants argue that the Hobbs Act has never been held to include, and was never intended to include, activities, even though unlawful under State law, which have for their purpose the securing of higher wages for legitimate employees who are parties to a lawful collective bargaining agreement.

The Government, on the other hand, would interpret the Hobbs Act much more broadly. Their interpretation would include in the definition of "property" (1) higher wages sought by collective bargaining, and (2) the company's "right to negotiate" the wage questions without unlawful interference.

While there is, as far as this Court can determine, no definitive jurisprudential answer to this dispute, and while there is, in the legislative background of the Hobbs Act, inferences at least to support both sides, this Court, nevertheless, concludes that the Hobbs Act was not intended by the Congress to have the broad application for which the Government contends. This is not to say that there could not be cases in which violence or threats of violence which occur during labor disputes could be prosecuted under the Hobbs Act. It is to say, though, that under the circumstances of this case, the indictment does not charge an offense punishable under the Hobbs Act. The caveat contained in Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 72 S.Ct. 240, 96 L.Ed. 288 (1952), is apropos the present situation:

"The spirit of the doctrine which denies to the federal judiciary power to create crimes forthrightly admonishes that we should not enlarge the reach of enacted crimes by constituting them from anything less than the incriminating components contemplated by the words used in the statute."

The pertinent parts of the Hobbs Act under which defendants were indicted, read as follows:

"(a) Whoever in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce, or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by robbery or extortion or attempts to conspire so to do, or commits or threatens physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to do anything in violation of this section shall be fined ***.

(b) As used in this section ***

"(1) ***

"(2) The term 'extortion' means the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right." 18 U.S.C.A. § 1951.

Section (b) (3), then, in effect, defines "commerce" to mean interstate commerce.

In the case before us, the defendants were union members who were on strike against their employer, Gulf States Utilities Company. The main purpose of the strike was to secure higher wages for Gulf States employees. In the course of the strike, violence apparently erupted. It is alleged that the defendants either individually or in conspiracy, one with the other, caused damage to certain transformers and other property of Gulf States Utilities Company by firing into said property with high powered rifles or by draining oil out of certain transformers for the purpose of causing them to malfunction. There is no suggestion that the strike itself was illegal, nor is there any suggestion

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that the object of the strike, i.e., to secure higher wages from Gulf...

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