J.L. v. Best W. Int'l, Inc.

Decision Date24 February 2021
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 19-cv-03713-PAB-STV
Citation521 F.Supp.3d 1048
Parties J.L., an individual, Plaintiff, v. BEST WESTERN INTERNATIONAL, INC., Hyatt Corporation, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Inc., and Marriott International, Inc., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Colorado

Paul J. Pennock, Weitz & Luxenberg PC, New York, NY, Sarah Ann Wolter, Andrus Wagstaff PC, Lakewood, CO, Tiffany Rose Ellis, Weitz & Luxenberg, Detroit, MI, for Plaintiff.

Donald E. Lake, III, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, Denver, CO, for Defendant Best Western International, Inc.

Kimberly Lynn Koehler, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, Denver, CO, Marisa Trasatti, Robert E. Scott, Jr., Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, Baltimore, MD, for Defendant Hyatt Corporation.

Christopher Bryan Donovan, DLA Piper US LLP, Houston, TX, Chuan Cheng, Kathryn A. Reilly, Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell LLP, Denver, CO, David Stewart Sager, DLA Piper US LLP, Short Hills, NJ, for Defendant Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Inc.

Chuan Cheng, Kathryn A. Reilly, Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell LLP, Denver, CO, Ellen Elizabeth Dew, DLA Piper US LLP, Baltimore, MD, for Defendant Marriott International, Inc.

ORDER

PHILIP A. BRIMMER, Chief United States District Judge

This matter is before the Court on motions to dismiss plaintiff's first amended complaint, Docket No. 65, filed by Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Inc. ("Wyndham") [Docket No. 69], Marriott International, Inc. ("Marriott") [Docket No. 70], Select Hotels Group, LLC1 ("Hyatt") [Docket No. 72], and Best Western International, Inc. ("Best Western") [Docket No. 71]. Plaintiff responded to each of these motions. Docket Nos. 75, 73, 77, 74, respectively. Defendants replied. Docket Nos. 84, 83, 81, 82, respectively. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

I. BACKGROUND2

Plaintiff alleges that she was "trafficked for commercial sex" at age seventeen in Denver, Colorado after running away from her father. Docket No. 65 at 2, ¶ 7. While homeless, plaintiff's friend introduced her to a man who promised to help her make money to support herself. Id. He brought her to a room at the Best Western Plus at the Denver Tech Center; however, once inside, he "bludgeoned [her] with a gun[,] rendering her completely unconscious, then stripped her nude, tied her to the bed, raped her, and posted naked photos of her online at Backpage.com advertising her for commercial sex." Id. at 3. Plaintiff was then "shuttled throughout the Denver Tech Center" under "the seemingly constant watch of an armed guard" and was "forced by her trafficker to sexually service numerous buyers at the various hotels within [the Denver Tech Center's] limits." Id. Plaintiff was "imprisoned" for over a month before agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation recovered her. Id.

Plaintiff brings this action for damages under the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 ("TVPRA"). Id. at 2, ¶ 6. She alleges that each defendant hotel company, "in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1595, knowingly benefited from a venture they knew, or should have known, to be engaging in sex trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1595(a)." Id. at 3, ¶ 8. Plaintiff claims that her trafficking, torture, and sexual exploitation occurred at the Best Western Plus, Hyatt Place, La Quinta Inn & Suites, and Sheraton hotels in the Denver Tech Center and that, as a direct and proximate result of defendants’ refusal to prevent human trafficking at these properties, she was sexually exploited and repeatedly victimized. Id. , ¶¶ 9–10. Each of these hotel companies, plaintiff alleges, "knowingly profited from sex trafficking ventures that compelled and sustained Plaintiff in sexual servitude and [are], therein, liable for the injuries inflicted upon Plaintiff by her traffickers due to [their] failure as innkeepers to exercise diligence consistent with a duty of care, let alone a heightened duty of care." Id. at 3–4, ¶¶ 11–14. Had the defendants exercised diligence, they would have discovered "the horrific acts that were being committed at [their] brand hotel. Thus, [they] conspired, enabled, and otherwise worked together [with plaintiff's traffickers] in the abuse and exploitation of Plaintiff in keeping her invisible." Id. at 4, ¶ 12.

Plaintiff's general allegations about each of the defendants are similar. Plaintiff alleges that each defendant "controls the training and policies for its branded properties including the ... hotel[s] where [plaintiff] was trafficked." Id. at 5, ¶ 16.b (Best Western); at 6, ¶ 18.b (Hyatt); at 8, ¶ 20.d (Wyndham); at 10, ¶ 22.d (Marriott). For each company, plaintiff alleges that "[b]y and through [the company's] relationship with the staff at the [property] where [plaintiff] was trafficked, and the perpetrator who trafficked [her] at the [property] while registered as a guest there," the defendant "knowingly benefited, or received [something] of value, from its facilitation of, or participation in, a venture which it knew or should have known to engage in sex trafficking." Id. at 5, ¶ 16.c (Best Western); at 7, ¶ 18.c (Hyatt); at 8–9, ¶ 20.f (Wyndham); at 10, ¶ 22.e (Marriott).

Further, plaintiff alleges that each defendant "receives a percentage of the gross room revenue from the money generated by the operations [of each company's] hotels, including a percentage of the revenue generated from the rate charged for the rooms in which Plaintiff was sex trafficked." Id. at 5–6, ¶ 16.d (Best Western); at 7, ¶ 18.d (Hyatt); at 9, ¶ 20.g (Wyndham); at 10–11, ¶ 22.f (Marriott).

Plaintiff claims that Best Western "owns, supervises, and/or operates the Best Western Plus – Denver Tech Center, located at 9231 E Arapahoe Road, Greenwood Village, Colorado 80112," id. at 6, ¶ 16.e, and that Hyatt "owns, supervises, and/or operates the Hyatt Place Denver Tech Center located at 8300 E Crescent Parkway, Englewood, Colorado 80111." Id. at 7, ¶ 18.e. As to Wyndham, plaintiff alleges that Wyndham is the successor to Wyndham Worldwide Corporation and that, as of 2018, La Quinta Holdings, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wyndham; therefore, La Quinta is a Wyndham brand property. Id. at 8, ¶¶ 20.a–c. She states that Wyndham "owns, supervises, and/or operates the La Quinta Inn & Suites – Denver Tech Center located at 7077 S Clinton Street, Greenwood Village, Colorado 80112." Id. at 9, ¶ 20.h. As to Marriott, plaintiff alleges that Marriott is the successor to Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. and that Starwood Hotels and Resorts, LLC, formerly known as Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Marriott; therefore, Sheraton is a Marriott brand property. Id. at 10, ¶¶ 22.a–c. Plaintiff alleges that Marriott "owns, supervises, and/or operates the Sheraton Denver Tech Center located at 7007 S Clinton Street, Greenwood Village, Colorado 80112." Id. at 11, ¶ 22.g.

Plaintiff states that, upon information and belief, each Best Western Plus, Hyatt Place, and La Quinta Inn pays "around 10% of its total revenue back" to its parent company. Id. at 22, ¶ 86 (Best Western); ¶ 88 (Hyatt); ¶ 90 (Wyndham). Marriott, however, plaintiff alleges, "exercises actual control over its franchisees through control over the brand standards." Id. at 23, ¶ 94.

Plaintiff alleges, upon information and belief, that each defendant took "inadequate measures to prevent sex trafficking at its brand hotels and instead profited from sex trafficking at their brand hotels." Id. at 16, ¶ 55. She states that each defendant "received information indicating sex trafficking had occurred at one of its brand hotels" and "had the financial resources to train hotel staff to identify the signs of sex trafficking." Id. at 17, ¶¶ 60, 62. Further, plaintiff alleges that the civil action provision of the TVPRA, 18 U.S.C. § 1595, "effectively require[s] all companies with a peculiar proximity to human trafficking for commercial sex, including Defendants, to use reasonable measure to conduct proactive audits to ensure that they were not profiting from what they should know are human trafficking ventures." Id. at 19, ¶ 71.

Plaintiff says that she arrived at the Best Western in the Tech Center one evening with no luggage and did not leave until days later, in the same clothes as when she arrived, and visibly injured. Id. at 47, ¶ 114. She states that she was "forced to sexually service" six "buyers" per day, who would arrive at the Best Western through the front door and be escorted to plaintiff's room by one of plaintiff's traffickers. Id. , ¶ 113. In one incident, she was "injured so badly by a buyer who ... slammed her head so hard against a dresser that the dresser was damaged[, and plaintiff] was screaming so loudly ... that her trafficker decided to move her to a different hotel." Id. , ¶ 112. Plaintiff alleges that, when she left the hotel, staff would have seen "an astounding number of used condoms scattered about and a broken dresser with [plaintiff's] blood on it." Id. , ¶ 115.

At the La Quinta, plaintiff was also forced to service six buyers per day, each of whom also entered through the front door. Id. at 47–48, ¶ 118. Plaintiff states that the foot traffic to her room was "constant and voluminous" and that the front desk staff had "a constant view of this behavior for two (2) weeks." Id. at 48, ¶ 118. While her traffickers would refuse regular maid service, plaintiff states that, on at least one occasion, she was taken to buy new clothes. Id. , ¶ 119. Plaintiff states that, when she was out of the hotel, maids would have seen "abundant used condoms scattered across the various surfaces of the room." Id. Plaintiff further states that, at one point, the front desk called plaintiff's room to ask her trafficker if "everyone was okay because they had received noise complaints." Id. , ¶ 121. Following the noise complaint, the front desk switched plaintiff's room. Id.

Plaintiff's sole allegation about what happened at the...

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