JPML Declines to Centralize Hotel Sex Trafficking Lawsuits

Published on February 13, 2020 by Laurie Villanueva

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has declined to centralize all federally filed hotel sex trafficking lawsuits before a single judge in one U.S. District Court.

However, the decision does not mean the end of the litigation, as sex trafficking plaintiffs around the United States will continue to pursue their individual claims in the courts where they were initially filed.

Informal Coordination Remains a Possiblity

According to the JPML’s February 5th Order, nearly 40 hotel sex trafficking lawsuits are currently pending in federal courts around the country, all of which claim hotel staff at various franchises, including Hilton, Wyndham, Days Inn, Super 8, Red Roof Inn, Quality Inn, Choice, and Extended Stay America, ignored obvious signs of commercial sex and allowed those locations to become havens for traffickers.

Sex trafficking plaintiffs had asked the JPML to centralize their claims late last year, arguing the growing docket would benefit from coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings. But the Panel ultimately concluded that the lawsuits differed in too many ways to justify centralization.

“The vast majority of actions involve different hotels, with the sole exception of the four Jane Doe actions in the Northern District of Georgia. Apart from the Georgia actions, each action involves different alleged sex trafficking ventures, different hotel brands, different owners and employees, different geographic locales, different witnesses, different indicia of sex trafficking, and different time periods,” the JPML wrote. “Thus, unique issues concerning each plaintiff’s sex trafficking allegations predominate in these actions. Indeed, there is no common or predominant defendant across all actions, further indicating a lack of common questions of fact.”

However, the Panel also suggested that informal coordination remained a possibility.

“For example, where multiple related actions are pending in a single district, the parties may request that the actions be organized before a single judge, as has occurred in the Southern District of Ohio and the Northern District of Georgia,” the Order continues. “Several of the brand defendants support informal coordination, suggesting that the parties could stipulate that discovery in one action may be used in other actions where the same brand is involved.”

About Hotel Sex Trafficking

According to the Polaris Project, more than 90% of the calls received by the National Human Trafficking hotline between December 2007 and February 2015 involved hotels and motels. Such establishments have also accounted for 90% of the sex trafficking that involves children.

Possible signs of hotel sex trafficking include:

  • Excessive requests for linens and towel.
  • Intoxicated underage people.
  • Guests wearing inappropriate clothing.
  • Multiple men being escorted one at a time to a room.
  • Paying cash for a room.
  • Guests who have no control over their money or ID.
  • An underage guest who seems to be controlled by an adult.
  • Adult video rentals while children are present.

All of the currently pending sex trafficking lawsuits were filed in accordance with the  Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013, which gives survivors 10 years to seek compensation once they have escaped their traffickers.

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