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Hotels Oppose Centralization of Lawsuits Over Sex Trafficking

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Although a growing number of sex trafficking lawsuits are being filed throughout the federal court system against various different major hotel chains, the industry is opposing a recent request to consolidate the cases before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

In recent months, about two dozen nearly identical claims have been brought against the operators of Hilton, Marriott, Wyndham, Best Western, Red Roof Inn and other popular hotels, alleging that the desire for profits was placed before human misery, by failing to enact and enforce standards and procedures that would have prevented sex traffickers from openly using their rooms and facilities, often involving minor children.

Plaintiffs allege that it has been obvious to hotel operators that sex trafficking was happening on their properties, yet they failed to take any steps to stop the practices.

Given similar questions of fact and law presented in lawsuits filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide, a motion was filed last month that seeks to centralize the hotel sex trafficking lawsuits as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

In various responses filed in opposition to the request last week, the hotel operators argue that the claims should be handled individually, due to the specific situations under which each sex trafficking incident occurred.

In one opposition brief filed by the Hilton franchise (PDF), the hotel chain argues that there is no common cause or injuries in the different claims.

“Each underlying case arises from a distinct alleged scheme perpetrated by different traffickers at different hotels across the country,” the brief states. “The cases do not allege an industry-wide conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking.”

Another brief submitted by Wyndam Hotels & Resorts, Inc. (PDF) argues that the plaintiffs have not demonstrated common questions of fact, and that consolidating the would be problematic.

Similar briefs were filed by the Best Western, Marriott, Inter-Continental, Choice and Red Roof Inn hotel chains.

There are currently at least 23 sex trafficking cases filed against hotel operators, which are pending 12 different U.S. District Courts, which is likely to lead to duplicative discover into common issues and conflicting pretrial schedules. In addition, the problem is likely to be compounded in the coming months and years, as lawyers representing plaintiffs indicate that there are approximately 1,500 additional hotel sex trafficking claims being investigated by their firms.

In a hearing order (PDF) issued on December 19, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation scheduled oral arguments on the motion for January 30, at the Sam M. Gibbons United States Courthouse in Tampa, Florida.

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