Hotel and Motel Operators Oppose Creating MDL for Sex Trafficking Lawsuits Filed Nationwide
A number of different hotel and motel chain operators are asking a panel of federal judges to reject a recently renewed request to establish a multidistrict litigation (MDL) for hundreds of sex trafficking lawsuits being pursued nationwide, even though each of the claims raise similar allegations, indicating that the hotels prioritized profits by turning a blind eye to sexual enslavement and prostitution occurring at their properties.
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) rejected a prior hotel sex trafficking lawsuit MDL request in early 2020, suggesting that U.S. District Judges nationwide should be able to informally coordinate the litigation, without the need to transfer the cases to one court for coordinated discovery into common issues in the claims and pretrial proceedings.
At that time, there were only about two dozen such lawsuits filed nationwide, and the panel noted it was open to reconsideration in the future. However, the size and scope of the litigation has grown dramatically over the past few years, and there are now at least 1,700 plaintiffs, with claims filed against several major hotel operators across the United States, including Hilton, Red Roof, Best Western and others. The individual claims often include dozens of plaintiffs in one joint filing.
Each of the human trafficking lawsuits against hotel operators claim the companies placed profits before the safety of individuals being sexually exploited in their rooms and on their properties, by failing to enact and enforce procedures that would have prevented the sex trafficking of children at their hotels and motels.
At the behest of Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley, who is presiding over at least 29 human trafficking lawsuits against hotel operators in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, a group of plaintiffs filed a new motion to establish ahotel sex trafficking lawsuit MDL in January 2024.
According to the motion, attempts at informal coordination have resulted in wasted judicial resources, duplicate discovery and inconsistent pretrial rulings, noting that there have been significant changes in the scope of the litigation since the panel first considered whether to centralize pretrial proceedings.
Hotel Chains Oppose Sex Trafficking Lawsuit MDL
On February 7, several major hotel chains, including Best Western, Wyndham and Red Roof, among others, each filed responses indicating that they still oppose the creation of a hotel and motel sex trafficking MDL, generally repeating arguments made in late 2019, when consolidated proceedings were first proposed.
The hotel and motel operators argue that each claim should be handled individually, due to the varied situations under which each sex trafficking incident occurred.
“Aside from increasing the number of ‘related actions’ from 21 (in 2020) to 57 (in 2024), nothing has changed regarding the absence of common questions of fact among these cases,” the motion from Best Western (PDF) states. “Each underlying case involves a distinct alleged scheme of trafficking at different hotel locations, in different states, at hotels affiliated with different brands, brought by different plaintiffs of varying ages and circumstances, and perpetrated by different traffickers across the United States.”
In its motion of opposition, Red Roof Inn (PDF) claimed plaintiffs’ assertions regarding Judge Marbley requesting the renewed MDL motion were “overstated.”
“Rather, Judge Marbley ordered Movants to circulate a draft Motion and then envisioned after that circulation and response thereto, the parties would meet and confer about possible alternatives or informal cooperation to streamline the cases before him prior to filing a motion with the Panel,” the brief claims.
The JPML has not yet indicated whether it will hear oral arguments on consolidation of the hotel sex trafficking lawsuits. The next opportunity for such a hearing would be at a JPML hearing scheduled for late March.
In complex product liability litigation, where a large number of claims are filed throughout the federal court system by individuals who suffered similar injuries as a result of the same or similar products or venues, it is common for the federal court system to centralize the litigation for pretrial proceedings. However, if settlements are not reached during discovery or following a series of early “bellwether” trials, each claim may later be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed to go before a jury.
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