C.S. v. Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc.

Decision Date10 May 2021
Docket NumberCase No: 2:20-cv-639-FtM-29MRM
Citation538 F.Supp.3d 1284
Parties C.S., Plaintiff, v. WYNDHAM HOTELS & RESORTS, INC., Hanuman of Naples, LLC, Shree Siddhivinayak Hospitality, LLC, H. I. Naples, LLC, and Holiday Hospitality Franchising, LLC, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida

Brian J. Perkins, Pro Hac Vice, Levin Simes Abrams, San Francisco, CA, Diana Yastrovskaya, Pro Hac Vice, Randolph Janis, Pro Hac Vice, Virginia E. Anello, Pro Hac Vice, Douglas & London, PC, New York, NY, Yale T. Freeman, Yale T. Freeman, PA, Gainesville, FL, Sharon M. Hanlon, Law Office of Sharon M. Hanlon, PA, Naples, FL, for Plaintiff.

David S. Sager, DLA Piper LLP, Short Hills, NJ, J. Trumon Phillips, DLA Piper US, LLP, Tampa, FL, Lianna Bash, Pro Hac Vice, DLA Piper LLP, Seattle, WA, for Defendant Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc.

Kenneth Michael Oliver, Kubicki Draper, Ft. Myers, FL, for Defendant Hanuman of Naples, LLC.

Daniel J. Santaniello, Luks, Santaniello, Petrillo & Jones, LLC, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, for Defendant H. I. Naples, LLC.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN E. STEELE, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter comes before the Court on review of the following three motions to dismiss: (1) defendant H.I. Naples, LLC's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint, Motion to Strike, and Incorporated Memorandum of Law (Doc. #17), filed on September 22, 2020; (2) defendant Hanuman of Naples, LLC's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint, Motion to Strike, and Memorandum of Law in Support Thereof (Doc. #19), filed on October 2, 2020; and (3) defendant Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. #26), filed on October 9, 2020. Plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Opposition to each motion (Doc. #32; Doc. #44; Doc. #43) on October 20th, November 4th, and November 6, 2020. Defendant Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc. filed a Reply (Doc. #51) on November 30, 2020. For the reasons set forth below, the motions are denied.

I.

The origins of this case began on October 30, 2019, when plaintiff and another alleged victim of sex trafficking filed a case in the Circuit Court of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit in and for Collier County, Florida. See S.Y. et al. v. Naples Hotel Co. et al., Case No. 2:20-cv-118 (Doc. #1, p. 3). On December 31, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint which asserted ten claims against over forty defendants. Id. at (Doc. #1, pp. 2-4). The case was removed to federal court in February 2020. Id. at (Doc. #1). On April 15, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint. Id. at (Doc. #85). On August 5, 2020, the undersigned denied various motions to dismiss, but determined severance of the parties was appropriate. S.Y. v. Naples Hotel Co., 476 F. Supp. 3d 1251, 1258-59 (M.D. Fla. 2020). Following the Court's severance order, plaintiff and the other alleged victim filed nearly thirty new actions against various defendants, including this case.

The Complaint (Doc. #1) in this case was filed on August 19, 2020, and alleges that plaintiff C.S., a resident of Collier County, Florida, was a victim of continuous sex trafficking at a certain Days Inn Hotel in Naples, Florida (the Days Inn Hotel) between 2015 and February 2016. (Id. at ¶¶ 14, 23-25.) The Complaint alleges that during this time period the Days Inn Hotel was operated by various entities as franchisees of defendant Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Inc. (Wyndham).1 The Days Inn Hotel was operated by defendant Hanuman of Naples, LLC (Hanuman) from an unspecified date until 2015. (Id. at ¶¶ 26, 27.) In 2015, Hanuman sold the Days Inn Hotel to defendant H.I. Naples, LLC (H.I. Naples), which operated the hotel until 2016. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-28.) In 2016, H.I. Naples sold the Days Inn Hotel to defendant Shree Siddhivinayak Hospitality, LLC (Shree). (Id. at ¶ 28.) In 2019, Shree sold the Days Inn Hotel to a non-party, who converted it to a Holiday Inn Express and operated it as a franchisee of defendant Holiday Hospitality Franchising, LLC. (Id. at ¶ 34.)

The Complaint alleges the following six claims: (1) violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA), 18 U.S.C. § 1595 ; (2) violation of the Florida RICO statute, § 772.104, Florida Statutes ; (3) premise liability; (4) negligent hiring, supervision, and retention; (5) negligent rescue; and (6) aiding and abetting, harboring, confining, coercion, and criminal enterprise. (Id. pp. 35-53.) Counts One through Four are asserted against each defendant, while Counts Five and Six are asserted against only Hanuman, Shree, and H.I. Naples. (Id. )

II.

The H.I. Naples, Wyndham, and Hanuman motions raise numerous arguments as to why the Complaint as whole, and each individual claim, should be dismissed. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.

A. Shotgun Pleading

Hanuman and Wyndham both argue the Complaint must be dismissed as a shotgun pleading. (Doc. #19, pp. 4-6; Doc. #26, pp. 5-6.)2 The Complaint identifies Wyndham, Hanuman, Shree, and H.I. Naples collectively as the "Days Inn Defendants." (Doc. #1, p. 1, introductory paragraph.) Hanuman and Wyndham argue that because the Complaint groups these four defendants together, it should be dismissed as a shotgun pleading. (Doc. #19, pp. 5-6; Doc. #26, pp. 5-6.)

One way in which a complaint may constitute an impermissible shotgun pleading is if it "assert[s] multiple claims against multiple defendants without specifying which of the defendants are responsible for which acts or omissions, or which of the defendants the claim is brought against." Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1323 (11th Cir. 2015) ; see also Barmapov v. Amuial, 986 F.3d 1321, 1325 (11th Cir. 2021). Such a pleading fails "to give the defendants adequate notice of the claims against them and the grounds upon which each claim rests," Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1323, and violates the requirement that a plaintiff provide "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).

The Complaint does indeed repeatedly refer to the four defendants collectively as the "Days Inn Defendants." See (Doc. #1, ¶¶ 2-3, 8, 18, 36, 46, 48, 72, 74, 96, 102, 109, 121, 128-29.) The failure to specify a particular defendant is not fatal, however, when "[t]he complaint can be fairly read to aver that all defendants are responsible for the alleged conduct." Kyle K. v. Chapman, 208 F.3d 940, 944 (11th Cir. 2000). The Complaint typically (but not always) alleges that "each and every" such defendant was involved in the activity described in the particular paragraph of the Complaint. A fair reading of the Complaint is that each of these defendants was involved in the identified conduct attributed to the "Days Inn Defendants." While defendants may disagree that such allegations are accurate, that dispute is for another day. The group allegations do not fail to state a claim, Auto. Alignment & Body Serv., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 953 F.3d 707, 732–33 (11th Cir. 2020), and the Complaint does not constitute a shotgun pleading.

B. Redundant and Immaterial Factual Allegations

H.I. Naples and Hanuman argue that the Complaint is "replete with redundant and conclusory allegations" that each defendant "knew or should have known of the prevalence of sex trafficking at hotels and motels, knew or should have known sex trafficking and other illegal activities were occurring at its hotel, and failed to take actions to prevent them from occurring so it could earn a profit." (Doc. #17, pp. 3-4; Doc. #19, pp. 6-7.) H.I. Naples and Hanuman request the Court strike such allegations, arguing they are redundant and immaterial, constitute an impermissible attempt to "puff" the facts against the defendants, and serve only to confuse the issues and cause prejudice. (Id. )

Pursuant to Rule 12(f), a party may move to strike "any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter" within the pleadings. The Court enjoys broad discretion in determining whether to grant or deny a motion to strike. Anchor Hocking Corp. v. Jacksonville Elec. Auth., 419 F. Supp. 992, 1000 (M.D. Fla. 1976). "The purpose of a motion to strike is to clean up the pleadings, streamline litigation, and avoid unnecessary forays into immaterial matters." Hutchings v. Fed. Ins. Co., 2008 WL 4186994, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 8, 2008) (marks and citation omitted). It is not intended to "procure the dismissal of all or part of a complaint." Id. A motion to strike is a drastic remedy and is disfavored by the courts. Schmidt v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 289 F.R.D. 357, 358 (M.D. Fla. 2012). Therefore, a motion to strike should be granted only if "the matter sought to be omitted has no possible relationship to the controversy, may confuse the issues, or otherwise prejudice a party." Id.

It is accurate to say that the Complaint alleges that defendants knew or should have known a great number of things. Allegations regarding the defendants’ knowledge of the prevalence of sex trafficking at hotels in general and at their hotel in particular, and the failure to prevent it, are relevant to the types of claims plaintiff asserts. S.Y., 476 F. Supp. 3d at 1259 n.5. The Court does not find that the allegations identified by defendants are overly redundant or unduly prejudicial, and the "drastic remedy" of striking the allegations is not justified. Accordingly, the request to strike the allegations is denied.

C. Failure to State a Claim

Each defendant argues certain claims should be dismissed due to plaintiff's failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. #17, pp. 4-9; Doc. #19, pp. 7-11; Doc. #26, pp. 6-24.) Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This obligation "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl....

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