Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Fifth Circuit
No. 10–1042. Argued February 21, 2012—Decided May 24, 2012
The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), provides, as relevant here, that “[n]o person shall give and no person shall accept any portion, split, or percentage of any charge made or received for the rendering of a real estate settlement service . . . other than for services actually performed.” 12 U. S. C. §2607(b). Petitioners, three couples who obtained mortgage loans from respondent, filed separate state-court actions, alleging that respondent had violated §2607(b) by charging them fees for which no services were provided in return. After the cases were removed to federal court and consolidated, respondent sought summary judgment, arguing that petitioners’ claims were not cognizable under §2607(b) because the allegedly unearned fees were not split with another party. The District Court agreed; and because petitioners had not alleged any splitting of fees, it granted respondent summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.
Held: In order to establish a violation of §2607(b), a plaintiff must demonstrate that a charge for settlement services was divided between two or more persons. Pp. 3–13.
(a) Section 2607(b) unambiguously covers only a settlement-service provider’s splitting of a fee with one or more other persons; it cannot be understood to reach a single provider’s retention of an unearned fee. Pp. 3–11.
(1) Section 2607(b) clearly describes two distinct exchanges. First, a “charge” is “made” to or “received” from a consumer by a settlement-service provider. That provider then “give[s],” and another person “accept[s],” a “portion, split, or percentage” of the charge. Congress’s use of different sets of verbs, with distinct tenses, to distinguish between the consumer-provider transaction and the fee-sharing one would be pointless if, as petitioners contend, the two transactions could be collapsed into one. Their reading—that a settlement-service provider can “make” a charge and then “accept” the portion of the charge consisting of 100 percent—does not avoid collapsing the sequential relationship of the two stages and would destroy the tandem character of activities that the text envisions at stage two (i.e., a giving and accepting). And if the consumer were the person who “give[s]” a “portion, split, or percentage” of the charge to the provider who “accepts” it, consumers would become lawbreakers themselves. Pp. 3–8.
(2) The normal usage of the terms “portion,” “split,” and “percentage”—which, when referring to a portion or percentage of a whole, usually mean less than 100 percent—reinforces the conclusion that §2607(b) does not apply where a settlement-service provider retains the entirety of a fee received from a consumer. The meaning is also confirmed by the “commonsense canon of noscitur a sociis, which counsels that a word is given more precise content by the neighboring words with which it is associated.” United States v. Williams, 553 U. S. 285. This connation is not undermined by the canon against surplusage. “Portion,” “split,” and “percentage” may all mean the same thing, but the canon merely favors that interpretation which avoids surplusage, see Microsoft Corp. v. i4i Ltd. Partnership, 564 U. S. ___, ___, and petitioners’ interpretation no more achieves that end than the Court’s does. Pp. 8–11.
(b) Petitioners’ arguments in favor of their contrary interpretation are unpersuasive. Section 2607(b), as interpreted here, is not rendered surplusage by §2607(a)’s express prohibition of kickbacks, for each subsection reaches conduct that the other does not. RESPA’s general purpose—to protect consumers from “certain abusive practices,” §2601(a)—also provides no warrant for expanding §2607(b)’s prohibition beyond the field to which it is unambiguously limited: the splitting of fees paid for settlement services. And giving §2607(b) its natural meaning would not lead to absurd results. Pp. 11–13.
626 F. 3d 799, affirmed.
Scalia, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
Certiorari To The Supreme Court Of Arkansas
No. 10–1320. Argued February 22, 2012—Decided May 24, 2012
The State of Arkansas charged petitioner Alex Blueford with capital murder for the death of a one-year-old child. That charge included the lesser offenses of first-degree murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide. Before the start of deliberations, the trial court instructed the jury to consider the offenses as follows: “If you have a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt on the charge of capital murder, you will consider the charge of murder in the first degree. . . . If you have a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt on the charge of murder in the first degree, you will then consider the charge of manslaughter. . . . If you have a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt on the charge of manslaughter, you will then consider the charge of negligent homicide.” The court also presented the jury with a set of verdict forms, which allowed the jury either to convict Blueford of one of the charged offenses, or to acquit him of all of them. Acquitting on some but not others was not an option.
After deliberating for a few hours, the jury reported that it could not reach a verdict. The court inquired about the jury’s progress on each offense. The foreperson disclosed that the jury was unanimous against guilt on the charges of capital murder and first-degree murder, was deadlocked on manslaughter, and had not voted on negligent homicide. The court told the jury to continue to deliberate. The jury did so but still could not reach a verdict, and the court declared a mistrial. When the State subsequently sought to retry Blueford, he moved to dismiss the capital and first-degree murder charges on double jeopardy grounds. The trial court denied the motion, and the Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed on interlocutory appeal.
Held: The Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar retrying Blueford on charges of capital murder and first-degree murder. Pp. 5−10.
(a) The jury did not acquit Blueford of capital or first-degree murder. Blueford contends that the foreperson’s report that the jury was unanimous against guilt on the murder offenses represented a resolution of some or all of the elements of those offenses in his favor. But the report was not a final resolution of anything. When the foreperson told the court how the jury had voted on each offense, the jury’s deliberations had not yet concluded. The jurors in fact went back to the jury room to deliberate further, and nothing in the court’s instructions prohibited them from reconsidering their votes on capital and first-degree murder as deliberations continued. The foreperson’s report prior to the end of deliberations therefore lacked the finality necessary to amount to an acquittal on those offenses. That same lack of finality undermines Blueford’s reliance on Green v. United States, 355 U. S. 184, and Price v. Georgia, 398 U. S. 323. In both of those cases, the verdict of the jury was a final decision; here, the report of the foreperson was not. Pp. 5−8.
(b) The trial court’s declaration of a mistrial was not improper. A trial can be discontinued without barring a subsequent one for the same offense when “particular circumstances manifest a necessity” to declare a mistrial. Wade v. Hunter, 336 U. S. 684. Blueford contends that there was no necessity for a mistrial on capital and first-degree murder, given the foreperson’s report that the jury had voted unanimously against guilt on those charges. According to Blueford, the court at that time should have taken some action, whether through new partial verdict forms or other means, to allow the jury to give effect to those votes, and then considered a mistrial only as to the remaining charges. Blueford acknowledges, however, that the trial court’s reason for declaring a mistrial here—that the jury was unable to reach a verdict—has long been considered the “classic basis” establishing necessity for doing so. Arizona v. Washington, 434 U. S. 497. And this Court has never required a trial court, before declaring a mistrial because of a hung jury, to consider any particular means of breaking the impasse―let alone to consider giving the jury new options for a verdict. See Renico v. Lett, 559 U. S. ___, ___. As permitted under Arkansas law, the jury’s options in this case were limited to two: either convict on one of the offenses, or acquit on all. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to add another option—that of acquitting on some offenses but not others. Pp. 9−10.
2011 Ark. 8, ___ S. W. 3d ___, affirmed.
Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, and Alito, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg and Kagan, JJ., joined.