Illinois ex rel. Madigan v. Telemarketing Associates, Inc. - 538 U.S. 600 (2003)
OCTOBER TERM, 2002
ILLINOIS EX REL. MADIGAN, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF ILLINOIS v. TELEMARKETING ASSOCIATES, INC., ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS No. 01-1806. Argued March 3, 2003-Decided May 5, 2003
Respondents, Illinois for-profit fundraising corporations and their owner (collectively Telemarketers), were retained by VietNow National Headquarters, a charitable nonprofit corporation, to solicit donations to aid Vietnam veterans. The contracts between those parties provided, among other things, that Telemarketers would retain 85 percent of the gross receipts from Illinois donors, leaving 15 percent for VietNow. The Illinois Attorney General filed a complaint in state court, alleging, inter alia, that Telemarketers represented to donors that a significant amount of each dollar donated would be paid over to VietNow for specifically identified charitable endeavors, and that such representations were knowingly deceptive and materially false, constituted a fraud, and were made for Telemarketers' private pecuniary benefit. The trial court granted Telemarketers' motion to dismiss the fraud claims on First Amendment grounds. In affirming, the Illinois Appellate and Supreme Courts placed heavy weight on Schaumburg v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 444 U. S. 620, Secretary of State of Md. v. Joseph H. Munson Co., 467 U. S. 947, and Riley v. National Federation of Blind of N. C., Inc., 487 U. S. 781. Those decisions held that certain regulations of charitable solicitation barring fees in excess of a prescribed level effectively imposed prior restraints on fundraising, and were therefore incompatible with the First Amendment. The state high court acknowledged that this case involved no such prophylactic proscription of high-fee charitable solicitation. Instead, the court noted, the Attorney General sought to enforce the State's generally applicable antifraud laws against Telemarketers for specific instances of deliberate deception. However, the Illinois Supreme Court said, Telemarketers' solicitation statements were alleged to be false only because Telemarketers contracted for 85 percent of the gross receipts and failed to disclose this information to donors. The court concluded that the Attorney General's complaint was, in essence, an attempt to regulate Telemarketers' ability to engage in a protected activity based upon a percentage-rate limitation-the same regulatory principle rejected in Schaumburg, Munson, and Riley.
Held: Consistent with this Court's precedent and the First Amendment, States may maintain fraud actions when fundraisers make false or misleading representations designed to deceive donors about how their donations will be used. The Illinois Attorney General's allegations against Telemarketers therefore state a claim for relief that can survive a motion to dismiss. Pp. 611-624.
(a) The First Amendment protects the right to engage in charitable solicitation, see, e. g., Schaumburg, 444 U. S., at 632, but does not shield fraud, see, e. g., Donaldson v. Read Magazine, Inc., 333 U. S. 178, 190. Like other forms of public deception, fraudulent charitable solicitation is unprotected speech. See, e. g., Schneider v. State (Town of Irvington), 308 U. S. 147, 164. This Court has not previously addressed the First Amendment's application to individual fraud actions of the kind at issue here. It has, however, three times held unconstitutional prophylactic laws designed to combat fraud by imposing prior restraints on solicitation when fundraising fees exceeded a specified reasonable level. Pp. 611-617.
(b) In those cases, Schaumburg, Munson, and Riley, the Court took care to leave a corridor open for fraud actions to guard the public against false or misleading charitable solicitations. See, e. g., Schaumburg, 444 U. S., at 637. As those decisions recognized, there are differences critical to First Amendment concerns between fraud actions trained on representations made in individual cases and statutes that categorically ban solicitations when fundraising costs run high. Simply labeling an action one for "fraud," of course, will not carry the day. Had the State Attorney General's complaint charged fraud based solely on the percentage of donations the fundraisers would retain, or their failure to alert donors to fee arrangements at the start of each call, Riley would support swift dismissal. Portions of the Attorney General's complaint against Telemarketers were of this genre. But the complaint and annexed affidavits, in large part, alleged not simply what Telemarketers failed to convey. They also described what Telemarketers misleadingly represented. Taking into account the affidavits, and reading the complaint in the light most favorable to the Attorney General, that pleading described misrepresentations this Court's precedent does not place under the First Amendment's cover. First, the complaint asserted that Telemarketers affirmatively represented that a significant amount of each dollar donated would be paid over to VietNow to be used for specific charitable purposes while in fact Telemarketers knew that 15 cents or less of each dollar would be available for those purposes. Second, the complaint essentially alleged that the charitable solicitation was a fa\;ade: Although Telemarketers represented that donated funds would go to VietNow's charitable purposes, the amount of funds paid over to