Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Gilbert v. United States Olympic Committee

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 27, 2019

HEIDI GILBERT, AMBER MEANS, MANDY MELOON, GABRIELA JOSLIN, KAY POE, and JANE DOES 6 – 50, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OLYMPIC COMMITTEE, USA TAEKWONDO, INC., STEVEN LOPEZ, JEAN LOPEZ, and JOHN DOES 1 – 5, Defendants.

          ORDER AFFIRMING AND ADOPTING IN PART AND REJECTING IN PART MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S MARCH 6, 2019 RECOMMENDATION AND GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the March 6, 2019 Recommendation by United States Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hegarty, in which the Magistrate Judge recommends that this Court grant in part and deny in part three motions to dismiss: (1) Defendants Steven Lopez and Jean Lopez’s (together, the “Lopez Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 106); (2) Defendant United States Olympic Committee’s (“Defendant USOC”) Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike Class Action Allegations (Doc. # 108); and (3) Defendant USA Taekwondo, Inc.’s (“Defendant USAT”) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 109). (Doc. # 218.) Plaintiffs and all Defendants object to portions of the Recommendation. (Doc. ## 224–27.) For the reasons described below, the Court affirms and adopts in part and rejects in part the Recommendation, and it grants in part and denies in part Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Recommendation thoroughly recites the factual and procedural background of this dispute and is incorporated herein by reference. (Doc. # 218.) See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Accordingly, this Order will reiterate only what is necessary to address the parties’ Objections to the Recommendation.

         A. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Briefly, Plaintiffs are elite female taekwondo athletes who competed on behalf of the United States at international sporting events, including the Olympics. (Doc. # 68 at 2.)

         Defendant USOC is the federally chartered corporation with “exclusive jurisdiction” over “all matters pertaining to United States participation in the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, and the Pan-American Games.” 36 U.S.C. § 220503(3)(A); 36 U.S.C. § 220502(a); see also (Doc. # 68 at 17.) Congress has empowered Defendant USOC to “organize, finance, and control the representation of the United States in . . . the Olympic Games” and other sanctioned competitions directly or through a sport’s national governing body and to “facilitate, through orderly and effective administrative procedures, the resolution of conflicts or disputes that involve any of its members and any amateur athlete, coach, . . . national governing body, or amateur sports organization and that arise in connection with their eligibility for and participation” in protected international competitions. 36 U.S.C. §§ 220505(c)(3), (5).

         Defendant USAT is the national governing body (“NGB”) for the sport of taekwondo, recognized and regulated by Defendant USOC pursuant to 36 U.S.C. § 220505(c)(4). (Doc. # 68 at 17, 21.) It is a not-for-profit federation that, like the NGBs of scores of other sports, is charged with sponsoring and arranging amateur athletic competitions in the sport. See 36 U.S.C. §§ 220501(b)(3), (8). It also selects American taekwondo athletes, officials, and coaches to participate in the Olympics and similar elite, international competitions. (Doc. # 68 at 22.)

         Defendant Jean Lopez was the head coach of the American taekwondo teams at the 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympic Games, and Defendant Steven Lopez, his brother, is a three-time Olympic taekwondo medalist for the United States. (Id. at 19.) Plaintiffs describe Defendant Steven Lopez as “taekwondo’s biggest star” and state that in the 2000s, he and Defendant Jean Lopez, along with their other siblings, were known across the country “as the ‘First Family’ of taekwondo.” (Id. at 9.)

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendants inflicted on them and other American female taekwondo athletes “forced labor and services, sex trafficking, and other travesties.” (Id. at 2.) They contend that the Lopez Defendants, “the primary perpetrators, ” “raped numerous female taekwondo athletes” and that Defendant USOC and Defendant USAT (together, the “Institutional Defendants”) facilitated the Lopez Defendants’ sex crimes and “protected [the Lopez brothers] from law enforcement and suspension by Team USA.” (Id. at 3.) Plaintiffs’ claims arise from two time periods:

[F]irst, the underlying forced labor and services and sex t raf f icking of Plaintiffs . . . from 1997 to 2010, and second, the cover-up of this misconduct, . . . which occurred from 2006 to 2008 and then from 2015 to 2018.

(Id. at 5.) They contend that during the second time period, Defendants USOC and USAT “formed an enterprise (along with the Lopez [Defendants]) to obstruct and interfere with efforts to prosecute or remove the Lopez brothers from taekwondo” and that Defendants’ obstructionist conduct included making “false and corrupting statements to Congress.” (Id.)

         B. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiffs initiated this litigation against Defendants on April 25, 2018, see (Doc. # 1), and have twice amended their Complaint, see (Doc. ## 6, 64, 68). Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint (the “SAC”), filed August 24, 2018, is the operative pleading. (Doc. # 68.) Plaintiffs assert 21 causes of action against Defendants and the United States Center for SafeSport (“SafeSport”).[1] (Id.) The Court organizes the claims into three categories:

Claims Arising Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”) , Pub. L. No. 106-386, 114 Stat. 1466 (2000) (codified as amended in scattered sections 8, 18, and 22 U.S.C.)[2]
1. Claim 1: Plaintiff Mandy Meloon’s claim of forced labor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589(a), 1595(a), and 2255, against Defendant Steven Lopez;
2. Claim 2: Plaintiff Mandy Meloon’s claim of sexual exploitation, transportation, and illegal sexual activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2241(c), 2243, 2421, 2422, 2423(a)–(c), and 2255, against Defendant Jean Lopez;
3. Claim 3: Plaintiff Gaby Joslin’s claim of forced labor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589(a) and 1595(a), against Defendant Steven Lopez;
4. Claim 4: Plaintiff Gaby Joslin’s claim of forced labor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589(b) and 1595(a), against Defendant USAT;
5. Claim 5: Plaintiff Gaby Joslin’s claim of trafficking with respect to forced labor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1590(a) and 1595(a), against Defendant Steven Lopez and Defendant USAT;
6. Claim 6: Plaintiff Gaby Joslin’s claim of sex trafficking of children, or by force, fraud, or coercion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a)(1) and 1595(a), against Defendant Steven Lopez and Defendant USAT;
7. Claim 7: Plaintiff Gaby Joslin’s claim of benefitting from a venture that sex traffics children, or by force, fraud, or coercion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a)(2) and 1595(a), against Defendant USAT;
8. Claim 8: Plaintiff Amber Means’s claim of forced labor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589(a), 1595(a), and 2255, against Defendant Steven Lopez;[3]
9. Claim 9: Plaintiff Amber Means’s claim of forced labor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589(b) and 1595(a), against the Institutional Defendants;
10. Claim 10: Plaintiff Amber Means’s claim of trafficking with respect to forced labor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1590(a), 1595(a), and 2255, against Defendant Steven Lopez;
11. Claim 11: Plaintiff Amber Means’s claim of sex trafficking of children, or by force, fraud, or coercion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a)(1), 1595(a), and 2255, against the Lopez Defendants and the Institutional Defendants;
12. Claim 12: Plaintiff Amber Means’s claim of benefitting from a venture that sex traffics children, or by force, fraud, or coercion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a)(2), 1595(a) and 2255, against the Institutional Defendants;
13. Claim 13: Plaintiff Amber Means’s claim of sexual exploitation, transportation, and illegal sexual activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2242, 2421, 2422, 2423(a)–(c), and 2255, against Defendant Steven Lopez;
14. Claim 14: All Plaintiffs’ claim of obstruction, attempted obstruction, and interference with enforcement, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1590(b), 1591(d), 1595(a), and 2255, against the Institutional Defendants and SafeSport;[4]
Claim Arising Under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961–68
15. Claim 15: All Plaintiffs’ claim of violation of RICO, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), against all Defendants; Claims Arising Under State Common Law
16. Claim 16: All Plaintiffs’ claim of negligent supervision against the Institutional Defendants;
17. Claim 17: All Plaintiffs’ claim of negligent retention against the Institutional Defendants;
18. Claim 18: All Plaintiffs’ claim of defamation against the Lopez Defendants and Defendant USAT;
19. Claim 19: All Plaintiffs’ claim of negligence against the Institutional Defendants and SafeSport;
20. Claim 20: All Plaintiffs’ claim of gross negligence against the Institutional Defendants and SafeSport; and
21. Claim 21: All Plaintiffs’ claim of outrageous conduct against Defendant USOC and SafeSport.

See (id. at 139–84.) Plaintiffs bring these claims on their own behalf and on behalf of two proposed nationwide classes: the “Injunction Class, ” defined as “[a]ll USOC-governed female athletes (subject to the USOC’s ‘commercial terms’ page or any other contract, ” and the “Damages Class, ” defined as “[a]ll USOC-governed female athlete[s] (subject to the USOC’s ‘commercial terms’ page or any other contract[)] . . . who (1) participated in taekwondo from 2003 to present and (2) traveled or trained with Jean Lopez, Peter Lopez, or Steven Lopez.” (Id. at 134.) Plaintiffs later voluntarily withdrew Claims 1, 2, 6, 7, 11, 12, and 18 (Doc. # 139 at 3) and dismissed as a defendant SafeSport (Doc. # 223).

         On August 24, 2018, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Lopez Defendants jointly filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 106); Defendant USOC filed a combined Motion to Dismiss and to Strike Class Action Allegations (Doc. # 108); and Defendant USAT filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 109). Plaintiffs responded to all three motions in an omnibus filing on November 1, 2018. (Doc. # 139.) Two weeks later, Defendants replied in support of their Motions to Dismiss. (Doc. ## 155, 157, 158.) At Defendant USOC’s request (Doc. # 175), Magistrate Judge Hegarty heard oral arguments on Defendant USOC’s Motion to Dismiss and to Strike on January 23, 2019 (Doc. # 203).[5]

         Magistrate Judge Hegarty issued an exhaustive Recommendation on Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss on March 6, 2019, suggesting that the Court grant in part and deny in part the Motions to Dismiss. (Doc. # 218.) As to Plaintiffs’ TVPA claims, Magistrate Judge Hegarty first examined “preliminary matters, ” including the applicable statute of limitations, the definition of “labor” and “services” in Sections 1589(a) and 1590(a), and the definition of “venture” in Section 1589(b). (Id. at 12–24.) He then turned to Defendants’ arguments regarding the sufficiency of Plaintiffs’ TVPA claims and recommended that the Court dismiss Claim 5 as alleged against Defendant USAT and Claim 14 as alleged against Defendant USOC. (Id. at 24–46.) Magistrate Judge Hegarty recommended that Claim 15, the claim alleging that Defendants violated RICO, be dismissed in its entirety. (Id. at 46–54.) He next assessed Plaintiffs’ state common law claims and advised the Court to dismiss Claim 16 in its entirety; Claim 17 in its entirety; Claim 19 as alleged against Defendant USAT; and Claim 20 as alleged against Defendant USAT. (Id. at 54–66.) Because “Plaintiffs withdrew the majority of their claims against [Defendant] Jean Lopez” and he recommended that the RICO claim be dismissed, Magistrate Judge Hegarty concluded that Defendant Jean Lopez should be dismissed from the case. (Id. at 72.) Turning to Defendant USOC’s request to strike Plaintiffs’ class action allegations pursuant to Rule 12(f) (Doc. # 108 at 25), Magistrate Judge Hegarty recommended that the Court strike Plaintiffs’ proposed Damages Class as overbroad. (Doc. # 218 at 69.)

         All parties object to various portions of the Recommendation. Defendant USOC, the Lopez Defendants, and Defendant USAT filed separate Objections on March 20, 2019 (Doc. ## 224–26), and Plaintiffs filed an omnibus Response on April 3, 2019 (Doc. # 233). Plaintiffs also filed an Objection to the Recommendation on March 20, 2019 (Doc. # 227), to which Defendant USOC and Defendant USAT both responded on April 3, 2019 (Doc. ## 232–33). Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss, Magistrate Judge Hegarty’s Recommendation, and the parties’ Objections are ripe for the Court’s review.

         II. APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES

         A. REVIEW OF A RECOMMENDATION

         When a magistrate judge issues a recommendation on a dispositive matter, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(3) requires that the district judge “determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge’s [recommended] disposition that has been properly objected to.” In conducting its review of proper objections, “[t]he district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         An objection is properly made if it is both timely and specific. United States v. One Parcel of Real Property Known As 2121 East 30th Street, 73 F.3d 1057, 1059 (10th Cir. 1996). Parties may not raise in their objections any novel arguments that they did not raise before the magistrate judge. Such arguments are deemed waived. Marshall v. Chater, 75 F.3d 1421, 1426 (10th Cir. 1996); see, e.g., Stout v. Seitz, No. 17-cv-01904-CMA-STV, 2018 WL 2948222, *4 (D. Colo. June 13, 2013) (declining to consider arguments regarding dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) where the plaintiff raised them for the first time in her objections to a recommendation).

         Where no party objects to the recommendation of a magistrate judge, “the district court is accorded considerable discretion with respect to the treatment of unchallenged magistrate reports. In the absence of timely objection, the district court may review a magistrate [judge’s] report under any standard it deems appropriate.” Summers v. Utah, 927 F.2d 1165, 1167 (10th Cir. 1991).

         B. DISMISSAL PURSUANT TO RULE 12(B)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a defendant may move to dismiss a claim for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “The court’s function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff’s complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.” Dubbs v. Head Start, Inc., 336 F.3d 1194, 1201 (10th Cir. 2003) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

         “A court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint presumes all of plaintiff’s factual allegations are true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1109 (10th Cir. 1991). “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) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility, in the context of a motion to dismiss, means that the plaintiff pleaded facts which allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The Iqbal evaluation requires two prongs of analysis. First, the court identifies “the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth, ” that is, those allegations which are legal conclusions, bare assertions, or merely conclusory. Id. at 679–81. Second, the Court considers the factual allegations “to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 681. If the allegations state a plausible claim for relief, such claim survives the motion to dismiss. Id. at 679.

         However, the court need not accept conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments. S. Disposal, Inc., v. Tex. Waste, 161 F.3d 1259, 1262 (10th Cir. 1998). “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Nor does the complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Id. (citation omitted). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.’” Id. (citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Court addresses the parties’ various objections to Magistrate Judge Hegarty’s analysis by claim, in chronological order.

         A. PLAINTIFFS’ TVPA CLAIMS

         Of their TVPA claims, Plaintiffs have withdrawn Claims 1, 2, 6, 7, 11, and 12. (Doc. # 139 at 3.)

         1. Claim 3: Plaintiff Joslin’s claim of forced labor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589(a) and 1595(a), against Defendant Steven Lopez

         In Claim 3, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1595(a), Plaintiff Joslin alleges that Defendant Steven Lopez violated 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589(a)(2) and (4) by obtaining her “labor and services”-namely, her “forced sexual services”-“by means of serious harm” or threats thereof and “through a scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause [her] to believe that, if . . . she did not perform such labor or services, she would suffer serious harm or physical restraint.” (Doc. # 68 at 142.) Plaintiff Joslin asserts that when Defendant Steven Lopez coached her at a tournament in Bonn, Germany in April 2006, he entered her hotel room on the night before her first match, turned on a “graphic pornographic movie, ” “pinned [her] to the bed, face down, pulled down her pants and mounted her, ” “penetrated [her], ejaculated inside her, and left the room.” (Id. at 124.) Plaintiff Joslin contends that during that incident, “[i]t was clear . . . that Steven required sex before he would address his responsibilities as her coach.” (Id.) She alleges that she “continued to allow Steven to have sexual intercourse with her” until 2010 “out of fear of the Lopez brothers.” (Id. at 125.)

         Section 1595 provides a civil cause of action for victims of any crime under Chapter 77, Title 18 of the United States Code. 18 U.S.C. § 1595. Section 1589 prohibits forced labor or services:

(a) Whoever knowingly provides or obtains the labor or services of a person by any one of, or by any combination of, the following means--
(1) by means of force, threats of force, physical restraint, or threats of physical restraint to that person or another person;
(2) by means of serious harm or threats of serious harm to that person or another person;
(3) by means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process; or
(4) by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to believe that, if that person did not perform such labor or services, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint, shall be punished as provided under subsection (d).

18 U.S.C. § 1589(a). “One can violate the statute either as a primary offender” under Section 1589(a) “or simply by benefitting financially from participation in a ‘venture’ with the primary offender” under Section 1589(b). Bistline v. Parker, 918 F.3d 849, 871 (10th Cir. 2019). In Claim 3, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Steven Lopez was the primary offender and is liable pursuant to Section 1589(a).

         The Lopez Defendants moved to dismiss Claim 3 on the grounds that it is “barred by the statute of limitations, as well as the plain meaning of the statute, ” and that Plaintiffs “fail to adequately allege that they were forced to provide any labor or services.” (Doc. # 106 at 6–10.)

         a. Magistrate Judge Hegarty’s Recommendation

         Magistrate Judge Hegarty recommended that “the Lopez Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Claim 3 be denied.” (Doc. # 218 at 29.) As to the statute of limitations, Magistrate Judge Hegarty discussed the applicable statute of limitations for all TVPA claims in his analysis of “preliminary matters.” (Id. at 12–16.) The parties’ dispute over the applicable limitations period is rooted in the legislative history of the TVPA, which Magistrate Judge Hegarty summarized:

Congress originally passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in 2000. This Act created only criminal penalties for conduct currently prohibited in 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589 and 1590. In 2003, Congress amended the Act to add a private right of action for victims of violations of §§ 1589, 1590, or 1591 at § 1595. At the time, the statute carried a four-year limitations period for filing civil actions. Congress amended the TVPA’s limitations period to ten years on December 23, 2008.

(Id. at 12–13) (emphasis added) (internal citations omitted). Persuaded by the logic of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Cruz v. Maypa, 773 F.3d 138, 145 (4th Cir. 2014), Magistrate Judge Hegarty concluded:

Any of Plaintiffs’ TVPA claims that were unexpired when Congress amended the Act [on December 23, 2008] to include a ten-year limitations period are timely to the extent they fall within ten years of the filing the First Amended Complaint [(May 4, 2018)].

(Doc. # 218 at 13–15.) As applied to Claim 3, Magistrate Judge Hegarty reasoned that Plaintiff Joslin’s claim is timely “because some of the alleged sexual conduct occurred after May 4, 2008.” (Id. at 27.)

         Magistrate Judge Hegarty then found that the SAC “plausibly alleges [Defendant] Steven Lopez] obtained [Plaintiff Joslin’s] services via means prohibited in [Section] 1589(a)(1)–(4).” (Id. at 27–29.) He had previously explained in his discussion of preliminary matters that “labor and services, ” as used in Sections 1589(a) and 1590(a), covers coerced sexual acts such as the “pay-to-play sexual acts alleged in the SAC.” (Id. at 16–18) (citing United States v. Kaufman, 546 F.3d 1242, 1259–63 (10th Cir. 2008)). As to Claim 3, he determined that only Section 1589(a)(2), which concerns “serious harm or threats of serious harm” to the person providing the labor or services or to another person, “could potentially support [Plaintiff Joslin’s] claim.” (Id. at 27.) After reviewing the statutory definition of “serious harm, ” relevant case law, and Plaintiffs’ allegations, Magistrate Judge Hegarty concluded that because “no Defendant in this case argues that the alleged ‘serious harm’ is insufficient as a matter of law to support a claim under the TVPA” and because no party had presented him with (nor had he found) “binding law identifying the ‘minimum for conduct that is actionable under the TVPA, ’” Plaintiff Joslin’s allegations in Claim 3 are sufficiently plausible to survive the Lopez Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. (Id. at 28–29.)

         b. Objections to the Recommendation and the Court’s Review

         The Lopez Defendants reprise two arguments in their Objection that they previously made in their Motion to Dismiss: that Claim 3 is barred by the statute of limitations “that existed at the time that [the claim] arose” and that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. # 225 at 4–11.)

         i. Statute of Limitations for TVPA Claims

         The Court concludes that for Claim 3 and Plaintiffs’ other TVPA claims, the TVPA’s existing ten-year statute of limitations applies-even to claims based on conduct that allegedly occurred when the TVPA had a four-year limitations period (before December 23, 2008), so long as the claim had not yet been barred by the four-year limitation when the ten-year limitation was passed into law. It thus affirms Magistrate Judge Hegarty’s assessment of the statute of limitations applicable to Plaintiffs’ TVPA claims and rejects the Lopez Defendants’ argument that Claim 3 is time barred.

         Like Magistrate Judge Hegarty, the Court is persuaded by the Fourth Circuit’s reasoning in Cruz. The plaintiff in Cruz alleged that she was forced to work for the defendants at well-below minimum wages from 2002 until she escaped in January 2008. 773 F.3d at 141. At the time the alleged conduct took place (2002 until January 2008), the TVPA was governed by a four-year statute of limitations. Id. at 143–44. On December 23, 2008, Congress amended the TVPA to include a ten-year statute of limitations. Id. The plaintiff filed the lawsuit on July 16, 2013, alleging violations of Sections 1589 and 1590, among other claims. Id. at 142–43. The district court dismissed all the claims as time-barred. Id. at 143. The plaintiff argued on appeal to the Fourth Circuit that her TVPA claims should be subject to the ten-year statute of limitations enacted in 2008. Id. The defendants asserted that application of the TVPA’s ten-year limitation period, enacted after the alleged conduct, would be impermissibly retroactive. Id.

         The Fourth Circuit held that “applying the [TVPA’s] extended limitations period to claims that were unexpired at the time of its enactment”-December 23, 2008-“does not give rise to an impermissible retroactive effect.” Id. at 145. To reach that conclusion, the Fourth Circuit applied the “framework for determining whether a statute applies retrospectively to pre-enactment conduct” that is set forth in Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U.S. 244 (1994). 773 F.3d at 144–45. At the second step of the Landgraf framework, determining whether the statute would operate retroactively, the Fourth Circuit looked to a previous case in which it had applied the Landgraf framework to a limitations period extension in the Veterans’ Benefit and Improvement Act, enacted after the plaintiff’s claims had expired under the old statute of limitations, and found that the new, extended statute of limitations would have an impermissible retroactive effect if applied to the plaintiff’s expired claims. Id. (citing Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, 714 F.3d 828, 837 (4th Cir. 2013)). Its holding in that case “suggest[ed] a distinction between expired claims and claims that were alive when the new limitations period was enacted.” Id. at 145. The Fourth Circuit explained this distinction “makes sense for two reasons:” first, because “applying a new limitations period to unexpired claims does not ‘attach new legal consequences to events completed before its enactment’” but “rather merely prolongs the time during which legal consequences can occur, ” and second, because, “in the criminal context, there is a consensus that extending a limitations period before prosecution is time-barred does not run afoul of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution.” Id.

         Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit rejected the defendants’ argument that applying the TVPA’s extended limitations period to claims that were unexpired at the time of its extension was impermissibly retroactive. Id. Whether the plaintiff’s TVPA claims could proceed, it continued, would depend “on whether they were still alive under the old four-year statute of limitations period when Congress enacted the new statute of limitations on December 23, 2008.” Id. Because that date was more than four years after the plaintiff began working for the defendants, the Fourth Circuit remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the plaintiff’s TVPA claims warranted equitable tolling “until December 23, 2004, four years before” Congress extended the TVPA’s limitations period. Id. at 146.

         Numerous other courts, including one in this jurisdiction, have reached similar conclusions that TVPA’s ten-year statute of limitations applies if the plaintiff’s claims were alive when Congress amended the TVPA on December 23, 2008, to lengthen the statute of limitations. See, e.g., Camayo v. John Peroulis & Sons Sheep, Inc., Nos. 10-cv-00772, 11-cv-001132, 2013 WL 3927677, *2 (D. Colo. July 20, 2013); Lama v. Malik, 192 F.Supp.3d 313, 322–23 (E.D.N.Y. 2006) (collecting cases). But see Abarca v. Little, 54 F.Supp.3d 1064 (D. Minn. 2014).

         The Court adopts the reasoning of the Fourth Circuit and rejects the Lopez Defendants’ argument that applying the ten-year limitations period to Claim 3 and Plaintiffs’ other TVPA claims is an “improper retroactive application under Landgraf because it involves the creation of additional liability for Steven Lopez.” (Doc. # 225 at 8.) Claim 3 was not expired on December 23, 2008, when Congress extended the TVPA limitations period to ten years. By applying the ten-year statute of limitations, the Court does not expose Defendant Steven Lopez to any new legal consequences; it “merely prolongs the time during which legal consequences can occur.” 773 F.3d at 145; see also Camayo, 2013 WL 3927677 at *2 (holding that the amendment of TPVA’s statute of limitations “did not . . . change the Defendants’ rights or impose any substantive burden on them;” it “merely extended the time in which a plaintiff may assert claims for violations of already-existing rights.”). This does not amount to an impermissible retroactive effect. Under TVPA’s ten-year limitations period, Claim 3 is timely. The Court affirms Magistrate Judge Hegarty’s conclusion on this point.

         The Lopez Defendants’ Objection does not persuade the Court otherwise.[6] The Lopez Defendants attempt to distinguish Cruz from their case by describing the Fourth Circuit as “carv[ing] out a narrow distinction to the rule against retroactivity for claims to which an ‘equitable tolling’ basis existed, to distinguish the claims as ‘unexpired.’” (Doc. # 225 at 7.) In this case, they contend, “Plaintiffs are not entitled to the remedy of equitable tolling” because “the facts that existed in Cruz to justify equitable tolling do not exist in the present case.” (Id.) That completely mischaracterizes the Fourth Circuit’s opinion in Cruz and Plaintiffs’ theory of this case. Notably, the Fourth Circuit did not consider the doctrine of equitable tolling until after it had concluded that “applying the [TVPA’s] extended limitations period to claims that were unexpired at the time of its enactment does not give rise to an impermissible retroactive effect.” Only after so concluding did it address equitable tolling to determine whether the plaintiff’s TVPA claims were unexpired under the previous four-year limitations period when Congress extended the limitations period to ten years on December 23, 2008. Cruz, 773 F.3d at 145. In this case, there is no question that Claim 3 was unexpired when Congress amended TVPA’s statute of limitations in late 2008. The Court agrees with Plaintiffs that they “do not assert-nor do they need to-that the limitations period for their claims should be equitably tolled.” (Doc. # 231 at 17.)

         For the foregoing reasons, the Court affirms Magistrate Judge Hegarty’s conclusion that Claim 3 is not time-barred.

         ii. Sufficiency of Factual Allegations

         Seeing no clear error in his analysis, the Court affirms Magistrate Judge Hegarty’s determination that Plaintiffs’ Claim 3 plausibly alleges a claim against Defendant Steven Lopez. See (Doc. # 218 at 29); Summers, 927 F.2d at 1167.

         In their Objection, the Lopez Defendants state that “Plaintiffs’ TVPA claims, ” Claims 3, 5, 8, 10, and 13, "are not sufficiently pled” because the SAC is “long on conclusory allegations and utterly devoid of the requisite factual specificity.” (Doc. # 225 at 10.) The Lopez Defendants did not raise this argument in their Motion to Dismiss. Rather, they argued therein that Claim 3 must be dismissed for failure to state a claim because Plaintiffs did not adequately allege “that they were forced to provide any labor or services” to the Lopez Defendants. (Doc. # 106 at 8.) According to the Lopez Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiffs “voluntarily remained” on the national taekwondo team and their alleged sexual conduct was “their contributions to [D]efendants USOC and/or USAT.” (Doc. # 106 at 8.) Because the Lopez Defendants did not previously argue that Claim 3 makes only conclusory statements and is devoid of factual allegations, this argument is deemed waived. See Marshall, 75 F.3d at 1426.

         Moreover, the Lopez Defendants’ objection that Plaintiffs’ TVPA claims are not sufficiently pled is improper due to lack of specificity; it fails to even mention Magistrate Judge Hegarty’s analysis of the sufficiency of Claim 3. See (Doc. # 225 at 10–11.) Because their objection is not properly made, the Court reviews the part of the Recommendation to which they object under a clear error standard. See Summers, 927 F.2d at 1167. Finding no clear error, the Court affirms this portion of the Recommendation.

         In sum, the Court is satisfied upon its de novo review that Magistrate Judge Hegarty correctly concluded that Claim 3 is timely and is adequately pled. The Court thus denies the Lopez Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Claim 3.

         2. Claim 4: Plaintiff Joslin’s claim of forced labor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589(b) and 1595(a), against Defendant USAT

         Claim 4 alleges that Defendant USAT is liable under Section 1589(b) because it “knowingly benefitted from participation in a venture with [Defendant] Steven Lopez, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the venture was engaging in the . . . obtaining of [Plaintiff Joslin’s] labor or services by means of . . . serious harm or threats of serious harm.” (Doc. # 68 at 143.) Plaintiff Joslin asserts that she “reported Defendant Steven Lopez’s abuse” to Defendant USAT. (Id.) Defendant USAT benefitted from Defendant Steven Lopez’s conduct, Plaintiffs continue, “by collecting money through sponsorships, grants, and for medals achieved at competitions, and for his recruitment and training of other elite taekwondo athletes, despite indications that [Plaintiff] Joslin was being abused and raped.” (Id. at 144.)

         As the Court stated above, pursuant to Section 1589(b), one can be liable for violation of Section 1589’s prohibition on forced labor or services “simply by benefitting financially from participation in a ‘venture’ with the primary offender.” Bistline, 901 F.3d at 871. Section 1589(b) provides:

(b) Whoever knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture which has engaged in the providing or obtaining of labor or services by any of the means described in subsection (a), knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the venture has engaged in the providing or obtaining of labor or services by any of such means, shall be punished as provided in subsection (d).

18 U.S.C. § 1589(b). The term “venture” “has not be defined in the context of [Section] ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.