Jingyu Chen v. Yong Zhao Cai

Decision Date28 March 2022
Docket Number19-CV-05387 (PMH)
PartiesJINGYU CHEN, Plaintiff, v. YONG ZHAO CAI, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

PHILIP M. HALPERN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Jingyu Chen (Plaintiff) commenced this action alleging claims under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”), 18 U.S.C. § 1581 et seq., the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq., and New York State common law. (See Doc. 93, “SAC”). Defendants Yong Zhao Cai, Qian Y. Cai, Jiang Li, and Kim K. Cheung filed Answers to the Second Amended Complaint. (See Doc 94; Doc. 99). Defendants New York Falun Dafa Association Corp., the Eastern U.S. Buddha's Study (Falun Dafa) Association, Inc., Falun Dafa Information Center, Inc. Friends of Falun Gong Inc., NY Metropolitan Falun Dafa Association Inc., International Falun Dafa Association, Inc. Falun Gong Club of Orange County, Inc., and Upstate Falun Dafa Association, Inc. (collectively Defendants), on the other hand, move under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the claims asserted against them, which motion is the subject of the instant opinion. (Doc. 111; Doc. 114, “Def. Br.”; Doc. 114; Doc. 115, “Opp. Br.”).

For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, while attending university in China, was introduced to Yong Zhao Cai (Cai) in November 2015. (SAC ¶ 30). The two began an intimate relationship and, in May 2016, Plaintiff traveled from China to the United States at Cai's request. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 39-40). Upon her arrival in the United States, Plaintiff was brought to Cai's home where “it became immediately clear that she was in a state of slavery.” (Id. ¶ 43). Plaintiff alleges that between May 2016 and when she escaped in January 2018, Cai, together with his sister Qian Y. Cai and his close friends and colleagues Jiang Li and Kim K. Cheung (“Cheung”), engaged in extreme acts of violence, threats, and coercion to obtain, control, and enslave her, including raping, choking, punching and kicking, withholding food and water, confiscating her immigration and identification documents, threatening that if she did not obey she would be reported to federal authorities who would in turn kill her for being in the United States undocumented, and threatening that someone hired by Cai would kill her parents in China. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 44, 57, 66-68, 78, 89-91, 103-106). Plaintiff alleges that Cai required her to clean and maintain the interior and exterior of his home, shop for groceries, cook meals, babysit his children, and act as his personal sex slave-engaging in intercourse on demand and video-recorded sex acts-and that Qian Y. Cai, Jiang Li, and Cheung each individually and intentionally contributed to her enslavement. (Id. ¶¶ 43, 50, 56, 58, 76, 88, 90, 104-106, 109).

Cai, Qian Y. Cai, Jiang Li, and Cheung are each alleged to be “a subscriber, adherent, believer, and follower” of the Falun Dafa religion. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 12, 14, 16).[1] Defendants are corporate entities that Plaintiff alleges “comprise and legally establish the religion and religious organization known as Falun Gong' and/or Falun Dafa.' (Id. ¶ 17). Plaintiff contends that Cheung was employed by Defendants to recruit and organize “volunteers” to participate in the activities and events of Falun Dafa. (Id. ¶¶ 116, 118). Cheung allegedly forced Plaintiff, by the aforementioned threats of physical and sexual violence, to attend and participate in multiple political protests and religious festivals hosted by and for the benefit of Falun Dafa and Defendants. (Id. ¶ 119). Plaintiff alleges that participation in these religious protests is considered treasonous by The People's Republic of China. (Id. ¶¶ 233-34). She was photographed at a September 2016 protest, the photograph was uploaded to the internet, and as a result, Plaintiff is considered a traitor by her home country and cannot return without facing legal punishment. (Id. ¶¶ 120, 174, 234).

The Second Amended Complaint, the operative pleading, sets forth thirteen claims for relief, five of which are alleged against Defendants and which they seek to dismiss: (1) the eighth claim for relief under the TVPRA for peonage (18 U.S.C. § 1581) and forced labor (18 U.S.C. § 1589(b)) on the basis of the doctrine of respondeat superior; (2) the ninth claim for relief under the TVPRA for peonage and forced labor; (3) the tenth claim for relief alleging negligent hiring, supervision, oversight, and retention; (4) the eleventh claim for relief alleging negligent security; and (5) the thirteenth claim for relief alleging RICO violations.[2]

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion enables a court to dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The factual allegations pled “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

“When there are well-ple[d] factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Thus, the Court must “take all well-ple[d] factual allegations as true, and all reasonable inferences are drawn and viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff[].” Leeds v. Meltz, 85 F.3d 51, 53 (2d Cir. 1996). The presumption of truth, however, ‘is inapplicable to legal conclusions,' and [t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.' Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (alteration in original)). Therefore, a plaintiff must provide “more than labels and conclusions” to show entitlement to relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

ANALYSIS
I. Eighth Claim for Relief

Plaintiff's eighth claim for relief alleges that Defendants are vicariously liable for Cheung's misconduct against her under a theory of respondeat superior. Plaintiff asserts that by enslaving her and threatening her with physical and sexual violence, Cheung forced her to attend and participate in political protests and religious festivals hosted by and for the benefit of Defendants from May 2016 to January 2018. (SAC ¶¶ 116-126). She alleges, in particular, that she was forced to attend a protest in September 2016 where she was photographed and the photo was uploaded to the internet; that as a result of her involvement with Defendants and the Falun Dafa religion, she cannot return to her home country without facing legal punishment; and that Cheung's conduct was within the scope of his duties as a recruiter and organizer for Defendants. (Id.).

To state a claim under the doctrine of respondeat superior, “a plaintiff must plead facts showing, among other things, that the tortious conduct causing the injury was undertaken within the scope of the employee's duties to the employer and was thus in furtherance of the employer's interests.” Doe v. Alsaud, 12 F.Supp.3d 674, 677 (S.D.N.Y. 2014). “Pursuant to this doctrine, the employer may be liable when the employee acts negligently or intentionally, so long as the tortious conduct is generally foreseeable and a natural incident of the employment.” Phillips v. Uber Techs., Inc., No. 16-CV-00295, 2017 WL 2782036, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. June 14, 2017). “An employer will not be held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for actions which were not taken in furtherance of the employer's interest and which were undertaken by the employee for wholly personal motives.” Doe, 12 F.Supp.3d at 677 (alteration omitted).

New York courts look to five factors when considering whether a particular act falls within an employee's scope of employment:

[1] the connection between the time, place and occasion for the act, [2] the history of the relationship between employer and employee as spelled out in actual practice, [3] whether the act is one commonly done by such an employee, [4] the extent of departure from normal methods of performance; [5] and whether the specific act was one that the employer could reasonably have anticipated.

Haybeck v. Prodigy Servs. Co., 944 F.Supp. 326, 329 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) (Sotomayor, J.) (quoting Riviello v. Waldron, 391 N.E.2d 1278, 1281 (N.Y. 1979)). [D]efining carefully the precise act which is the subject of the complaint is crucial.” Id. Plaintiff complains in the eighth claim for relief that she was forced, through slavery and threats of physical and sexual violence, to attend and participate in political protests and religious festivals.

Assuming that Plaintiff has adequately alleged that Cheung was employed by each of the Defendants in the relevant time period, [3] the question is whether Cheung was acting within the scope of his employment with Defendants when he threatened physical and sexual violence against Plaintiff. She contends that Cheung was acting within the scope of his duties as a recruiter and organizer when he forced her into supporting Falun Dafa events in order to...

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