Zhang Jingrong v. Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance (CACWA)

Decision Date14 March 2018
Docket Number15-CV-1046
Citation287 F.Supp.3d 290
Parties ZHANG JINGRONG, Zhou Yanhua, Zhang Peng, Zhang Cuiping, Wei Min, Lo Kitsuen, Cao Lijun, Hu Yang, Guo Xiaofang, Gao Jinying, Cui Lina, Xu Ting, Bian Hexiang, Plaintiffs, v. CHINESE ANTI-CULT WORLD ALLIANCE (CACWA), Michael Chu, Li Huahong, Wan Hongjuan, Zhu Zirou, and Does 1-5 Inclusive, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York

Terri Marsh, Human Rights Law Foundation, Washington, DC, Joshua S. Moskovitz, Bernstein Clarke & Moskovitz PLLC, Keith M. Szczepanski, Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs.

Edmond Wai Wong, Law Office of Edmond W. Wong, Forest Hills, NY, Jacques Catafago, Catafago Law Firm, P.C., Tom M. Fini, Catafago Fini LLP, New York, NY, for Defendant.

ORDER

Jack B. Weinstein, Senior United States District Judge:

Magistrate judge Vera Scanlon issued the attached report and recommendation. See ECF No. 35. It was approved by the late district judge, Sandra Townes. See ECF No. 38. It is recognized as providing the law of the case.

The case will be set for trial at the hearing on the motions for summary judgment scheduled for April 4, 2018.

SO ORDERED.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

VERA M. SCANLON, United States Magistrate Judge:

Before the Court on referral from the Honorable Sandra L. Townes, see ECF No. 31, is Defendants' partial motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ. P.") 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated herein, this Court respectfully recommends that Defendants' motion be denied .

I. BACKGROUND
A. Procedural Background

On March 3, 2015, Plaintiffs Zhang Jingrong ("Jingrong"),1 Zhou Yanhua ("Yanhua"), Zhang Peng ("Peng"), Zhang Cuiping ("Cuiping"), Wei Min ("Min"), Lo Kitsuen ("Kitsuen"), Cao Lijun ("Lijun"), Hu Yang ("Yang"), Guo Xiaofang ("Xiaofang"), Gao Jinying ("Jinying"), Cui Lina ("Lina"), Xu Ting ("Ting"), and Bian Hexiang ("Hexiang") commenced this action by filing their Complaint. See Complaint, ECF No. 2. In lieu of filing an answer, Defendants Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance ("CACWA"), Michael Chu ("Chu"), Li Huahong ("Huahong"), Wan Hongjuan ("Hongjuan"), and Zhu Zirou ("Zirou") sought a pre-motion conference, pursuant to District Judge Townes’s Individual Rules, regarding their proposed partial motion to dismiss. See ECF No. 14. Plaintiffs opposed the substance of Defendants' proposed motion to dismiss, and they requested that District Judge Townes permit the Parties to proceed directly to briefing without the need for a pre-motion conference. See ECF No. 15. The Court denied Defendants' request for a pre-motion conference, but it granted Defendants leave to file their motion to dismiss. See ECF No. 16.

Defendants served their motion to dismiss on Plaintiffs. See ECF No. 21. Plaintiffs served their opposition papers, see ECF No. 25, and Defendants served their reply papers, see ECF No. 26. Plaintiffs subsequently sought leave to file a sur-reply, which I granted on January 28, 2016. See ECF No. 35. The parties have engaged in discovery during the pendency of this motion.

B. Factual Background

The following information is derived from the Complaint, unless otherwise noted. The information is presented in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, for the purposes of this motion only. See In re Thelen LLP, 736 F.3d 213, 218 (2d Cir. 2013) (on a motion to dismiss, the court must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff’s favor"). Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges various claims pursuant to common law and statutes under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), 18 U.S.C. § 248 and New York Civil Rights § 79-n.

Plaintiffs in this action are individuals who reside in or have visited Flushing, Queens, New York who either practice Falun Gong or have been mistakenly identified as practitioners of Falun Gong. See Complaint, ECF No. 2 ¶ 2. Falun Gong is a peaceful, spiritual religion based on the tenets of Zhen, Shan, and Ren (truthfulness, compassion and tolerance), and has much in common with the spiritual practices of Taoism and Buddhism. Id. ¶¶ 3, 5, 170. Falun Gong practitioners engage in religious activities in Flushing at five designated sites situated within walking distance of Falun Gong’s Spiritual Center, each of which operates as an extension of the Spiritual Center. Id. ¶ 6. Plaintiffs staff and maintain these sites at which they distribute Falun Gong literature, including religious and protest materials. Id.

Defendant CACWA is a not-for-profit corporation registered under the laws of New York State; it was established in 2008. Id. ¶ 36. According to CACWA’s Certificate of Incorporation, its mission is to expose Falun Gong as an evil and dangerous threat to society. Id. ¶ 9. CACWA’s printed materials and websites indicate that CACWA was created to wage a "douzheng" campaign against Falun Gong practitioners in New York, particularly those residing in Flushing. Id. ¶ 37. Roughly translated, douzheng means "crackdown," "violent suppression" or "violent attack,"2 and in post-Cultural Revolution Chinese Communist Party parlance, is a call to eradicate or suppress a dissident group. Id. A key objective of a douzheng campaign is the forced conversion of targeted groups by compelling members to renounce their political or religious beliefs, supported by a propaganda campaign which, similar to that which was carried out in Nazi Germany during World War II, characterizes its victims as appropriate targets of violence and abuse. Id. ¶ 49.

Originally initiated in China,3 the anti-Falun Gong campaign was extended into the United States in 2001 by then Communist Party ("Party") Chief Jiang Zemin. Id. ¶¶ 50-51. Several Party-controlled associations in China, including the China Anti-Cult Association ("CACA"), established anti-Falun Gong organizations in the United States in an attempt to conduct "comprehensive suppression overseas." Id. ¶ 51. CACA, which was founded in China in 2000, created branch offices and affiliate organizations around the globe to purge the world of the Falun Gong religion and its believers through a douzheng campaign. CACWA is one such branch office or affiliate organization. Id. ¶ 51.

In May 2008, two peaceful Falun Gong protests in Flushing ended in violence when Falun Gong practitioners were attacked by Party loyalists while shouting their intent to "kill" Falun Gong members and describing the religion as "deviated" and an "evil cult." Id. ¶¶ 54-56. Defendant Huahong was arrested for her participation in one of these two incidents and, just outside the courthouse following her arraignment, Huahong attacked another Falun Gong practitioner. Id. ¶¶ 57-58.

In September 2008, CACWA was incorporated by Huahong along with Defendant Chu, whose business address was provided as the address for CACWA.4 Id. ¶ 59. Huahong and Chu serve as Co-Chairs of CACWA and, in this capacity, they plan, manage, and organize CACWA’s activities in Flushing. Id. ¶¶ 39-41. Chu is likewise affiliated in various senior level capacities with several groups that monitor and oversee the behavior of "overseas Chinese" (a term used to describe Chinese individuals or groups living outside of China), which have the collective goal of silencing Party enemies, including Falun Gong. Id. ¶¶ 69-73. Defendants Zirou and Hongjuan have collaborated with Chu and Huahong in multiple anti-Falun Gong acts. Id. ¶¶ 43-44.5

CACWA operates a booth in Flushing at 41-40 Main Street, just two blocks from Falun Gong’s Spiritual Center,6 where CACWA supporters distribute fliers and pamphlets calling for the violent suppression of Falun Gong and seeking "overseas Chinese" recruits to assist with their douzheng campaign. Id. ¶¶ 10, 60, 62, 64. Many of these fliers, which Chu distributed almost daily, characterize Falun Gong as a "deviated religion," bear a skull and cross bones insignia, and urge Party loyalists to "beat" Falun Gong practitioners. Id. ¶¶ 91, 121-123.

Since the establishment of CACWA, Chu, Huagong, Zirou and Hongjuan have participated in verbal and physical attacks against the Plaintiffs, as well as others, on the basis of their participation, or perceived participation, in Falun Gong. While delivering a speech during a recent Chinese New Year Parade in Flushing, Chu called for the "defeat" of Falun Gong and paid attendees to dress in anti-Falun Gong attire. Id. ¶ 89. On several occasions during 2013 and 2014, Chu characterized Falun Gong as a "deviated religion" to audiences and threatened practitioners as they partook in parades. Id. ¶¶ 92-96. Huagong has physically attacked, threatened or intimidated one or more Plaintiffs on twelve occasions, id. ¶¶ 77, 79, 80-81, 84, 86-87; Hongjuan has physically attacked, threatened or intimidated one or more Plaintiffs on nine occasions, id. ¶¶ 101-109; and Zirou has physically attacked, threatened or intimidated one or more Plaintiffs on four occasions, id. ¶¶ 77, 111-114. On several occasions, these attacks were carried out by more than one Defendant in conjunction with one another, id. ¶¶ 77, 84, 103-104, 113-114, and the majority of the incidents occurred at, or in the immediate vicinity of, Falun Gong’s Spiritual Center or its associated sites as members attempted to distribute religious materials and spread the word of the Falun Gong practice, id. ¶¶ 20-26, 28-29, 33, 80-81, 84, 86, 95, 101-102, 107, 109, 111-112.

In addition to these alleged physical and verbal attacks, several of the individual Defendants have attempted to utilize the New York City Police Department ("NYPD") as a means of threatening or intimidating Plaintiffs. For example, in March 2009, Defendants Huahong and Zhu falsely informed police that Plaintiff Hexiang had assaulted a wheelchair-bound Zhu, prompting Hexiang’s arrest. See Complaint, ECF No. 2 ¶ 77. A photo of Hexiang in handcuffs was later posted on a CACWA-affiliated website. Id. On another occasion in July 2011, Huahong attempted to injure herself and publicly cast blame on Plaintiff Xiur...

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