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Sekhar v. United States

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: June 26, 2013
Case #: 12-357
Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Kennedy and Sotomayor, JJ., joined.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-357_q8l1.pdf

Property Law: Attempting to compel a person to recommend that his employer approve an investment does not constitute “the obtaining of property from another” under the Hobbs Act.

The Hobbs Act was enacted by the federal government in 1946 to punish extortion. Extortion is the act of using a threat of force or violence to take someone else’s property. Petitioner , a partner of an investment firm, sought potential investments from government agencies. One of their accounts was a New York employee pension fund. The general counsel of the New York Comptroller’s office recommended to the Comptroller that they not invest in the fund. Petitioner proceeded to send threatening emails to the general counsel claiming that if he did not change his recommendation, Petitioner would release potentially damaging personal information about his alleged extra-marital affair.  

Petitioner was convicted of attempted extortion in violation of the Hobbs Act by the district court. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the conviction, stating that the New York Comptroller's general counsel had been deprived by Petitioner of his property right in “rendering sound legal advice to the Comptroller."

The Supreme Court unanimously voted to reverse the decision by the Second Circuit. The Court held that “what was charged in this case was not extortion.”  The Court reasoned that extortion as prescribed by the Hobbs Act requires that property be "transferable," or "capable of passing from one person to another." The Comptroller's general counsel rendered advice that cannot be considered to be transferable and thus cannot be considered “obtainable property” under the Hobbs Act.