United States v. Wells, 519 U.S. 482, 10 (1997)

Page:   Index   Previous  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  Next

Cite as: 519 U. S. 482 (1997)

Opinion of the Court

Nor have respondents come close to showing that at common law the term "false statement" acquired any implication of materiality that came with it into 1014. We do, of course, presume that Congress incorporates the common-law meaning of the terms it uses if those " 'terms . . . have accumulated settled meaning under . . . the common law' " and " 'the statute [does not] otherwise dictat[e],' " Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Darden, 503 U. S. 318, 322 (1992) (quoting Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, supra, at 739). Respondents here, however, make no claims about the settled meaning of "false statement" at common law; they merely note that some common-law crimes involving false statements, such as perjury, required proof of materiality. See Brief for Respondents 23-24. But Congress did not codify the crime of perjury or comparable common-law crimes in 1014; as we discuss next, it simply consolidated 13 statutory provisions relating to financial institutions, and, in fact, it enacted a separate general perjury provision at 18 U. S. C. 1621, see 62 Stat. 773.10

511, n. 12. But this does not follow. The question is not whether the specified categories of statements will almost certainly be material statements in point of fact; like false statements made for the purpose of influencing a lender, the four other criminal acts will virtually always involve material misstatements. The question, however, is whether materiality must be proven as a separate element, and on that question a list of criminal acts, none of which is expressly described as "material," is no premise for the dissent's conclusion under the ejusdem generis and noscitur a sociis canons.

10 Nor does Fedorenko v. United States, 449 U. S. 490 (1981), help respondents here. In Fedorenko, we agreed with the Government that, even though the phrase "willfully make a misrepresentation" in 10 of the Displaced Persons Act, 62 Stat. 1013, did not use the term "material," it nonetheless applied only to willful misrepresentations about "material" facts, 449 U. S., at 507-508, and n. 28. The dissent argues we should reach a similar conclusion here, because Kungys v. United States, 485 U. S. 759, 781 (1988), made it clear that "misrepresentation" and "false statement" were on par at common law. Post, at 504, and n. 6. But the passage from Kungys quoted by the dissent addressed the historic meaning of the

491

Page:   Index   Previous  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007