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H.H. v. G6 Hospitality, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

December 6, 2019

H.H., Plaintiff,
v.
G6 HOSPITALITY, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          Deavers Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION & ORDER

          ALGENON L. MARBLEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants', G6 Hospitality, LLC, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc., Shahil, LLC, and Northland Hotel, Inc., Motions to Dismiss. (ECF Nos. 29, 30, 21, 19). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motions are hereby DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, H.H., alleges she was trafficked for sex from approximately March 2015 to October 2015 at Motel 6 and Super 8 hotel locations in Columbus. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 45). Plaintiff now seeks to hold these hotels liable under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”), 18 U.S.C. § 1595(a).

         Plaintiff alleges that these hotel Defendants knew that sex trafficking occurred frequently on their properties and failed to prevent it, and also that they knew or should have known of H.H.'s trafficking. Plaintiff points to behavior that she alleges hotel staff should have recognized as signs of her trafficking: “bottles of lubricants, boxes of condoms, excessive requests for towels and linens, cash payments, ” and physical signs of human trafficking including “branding, restraints, bruises, physical deterioration.” (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 46). Plaintiff alleges that while she was at each hotel property she “was routinely escorted by her trafficker to the front desk to hand deliver cash payments.” (Id.). She also alleges that she was discovered by the hotel cleaning staff at the Motel 6 Columbus “tied to the guest room bed” and that “despite her desperate pleas for help, the staff ignored her.” (Id. at ¶ 47). At the Super 8 Columbus, she similarly alleges housekeeping staff discovered her chained up in the bathroom and ignored her pleas for help. (Id. at ¶ 48). Plaintiff finally escaped in October of 2015. H.H. alleges that these hotels and their parent companies did not take adequate measures to prevent human trafficking and were “willfully blind to the indicia of human trafficking.” (Id. at ¶ 46).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court may dismiss a cause of action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Such a motion “is a test of the plaintiff's cause of action as stated in the complaint, not a challenge to the plaintiff's factual allegations.” Golden v. City of Columbus, 404 F.3d 950, 958-59 (6th Cir. 2005). The Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008). If more than one inference may be drawn from an allegation, the Court must resolve the conflict in favor of the plaintiff. Mayer v. Mylod, 988 F.2d 635, 638 (6th Cir. 1993). The Court cannot dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim “unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” Id. The Court is not required, however, to accept as true mere legal conclusions unsupported by factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Although liberal, Rule 12(b)(6) requires more than bare assertions of legal conclusions. Allard v. Weitzman, 991 F.2d 1236, 1240 (6th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). Generally, a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint's factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). It must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. A claim is plausible when it contains “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         III. LAW & ANALYSIS

         In its October 7, 2019 Opinion and Order in M.A. v. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc., this Court undertook an extensive analysis in a related case of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”) and its application to civil liability of hotel defendants for sex trafficking. See M.A. v. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc., No. 2:19-cv-849, 2019 WL 4929297 (S.D. Ohio Oct. 7, 2019).

         Like M.A., H.H. brings claims under 18 U.S.C. § 1595, [1] which sets forth the standard for civil liability under the TVPRA. This Court held in M.A. that § 1595(a) can be a standalone claim, and civil Defendants need not have committed the underlying criminal sex trafficking offense under § 1591. 2019 WL 4929297 at *2 (citing Cong. Research Serv., R40190, The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-457): Criminal Law Provisions, at 16 (Jan. 29, 2009) (the amendments to the TVPA “create[] civil liability both for those who face criminal liability for their profiteering and those who do not.”); Plaintiff A v. Schair, No. 2:11-cv-00145-WCO, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 197819, at *6 (N.D.Ga. Sept. 9, 2014) (the 2008 amendments broadened the parties who could be sued for trafficking violations from only the perpetrator to “anyone who ‘knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value from participation in a venture which that person knew or should have known has engaged in an act in violation of this chapter'”)). This Court likewise finds that H.H.'s allegation that she is a victim of trafficking under § 1591 is enough sufficiently to plead that she is “a victim of this chapter” pursuant to § 1595(a) in order to survive a motion to dismiss.

         A. Civil Liability Under the TVPRA § 1595

         The requirements for liability under § 1595(a) on a “beneficiary” theory can be stated as follows: (1) the person or entity must “knowingly benefit[], financially or by receiving anything of value, ” (2) from participating in a venture, (3) that the “person knew or should have known has engaged in an act in violation of this chapter.” 18 U.S.C. § 1595(a).

         1. ...


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