The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO") is not all that complicated.

Section 1962(c) provides:

It shall be unlawful for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.

In case you think "racketeering activity" is too vague, don’t worry — the RICO Act defines it specifically. If the plain meaning rule was applied as strictly as courts say it should be, then we would see these claims prevail in every case involving a systematic fraud.

Instead, over the years defense lawyers and activist courts have imposed a broad swath extra-statutory requirements on RICO claims, such as two separate requirements of "distinctiveness." A plaintiff alleging RICO claims must allege that the "enterprise" at issue is "distinct" from the "persons" in the enterprise, and must allege that the "enterprise" has a "distinct" structure separate from the racketeering.

Of course, if we applied the dual "distinctiveness" requirements the way defense lawyers say we should, then Al Capone and his organization couldn’t be prosecuted for racketeering, because Capone’s organization was not "distinct" from itself and because Capone and his organization had no structure "distinct" from the racketeering itself.

Thankfully, after a handful of recent Supreme Court cases recognizing the broad language of the RICO Act (e.g., the Cedric Kushner and Boyle cases) , common sense is beginning to prevail again in the federal courts:

In a major setback for several title insurers, a federal judge has refused to dismiss a trio of class action consumer RICO suits that accuse the companies of engaging in a pervasive pattern of overcharging for title insurance by systematically ignoring entitlement to statutory discounts.

Although title insurers have been battling a wave of consumer litigation in recent years, the three decisions by U.S. District Judge Joel H. Slomsky mark the first time that a court has green-lighted RICO claims.

Defense lawyers had urged Slomsky to dismiss the RICO claims, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to plead a proper RICO enterprise since an insurer and its agents cannot be considered legally "distinct."

Slomsky disagreed, saying "plaintiffs have satisfied the minimum ‘person’ and ‘enterprise’ distinctiveness requirement because the combination of Commonwealth Land and the title agents constitute a single ‘enterprise’ separate and distinct from the ‘person’ of defendant Commonwealth Land and this combination is permissible under RICO jurisprudence."

The opinion is a victory for common sense. Will the plaintiffs prevail? Beats me. But a plaintiff who can marshal plausible allegations of systematic mail and wire fraud should not have the courthouse doors closed to them on grounds of sophistry.