JPML Refuses to Consolidate Hotel Sex Trafficking Lawsuits for Second Time

After initially rejecting a similar request for a hotel sex trafficking lawsuit MDL four years ago, the panel noted after considering the renewed request that the federal courts still have not been flooded with claims justifying centralization.

A panel of federal judges has rejected a bid by victim-survivors to consolidate all hotel sex trafficking lawsuits before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings, after determining that any attempt to centralize claims involving so many different defendants and individual factors would lead to a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) that is “rife with confusion”.

The decision by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) is the second time the judges have rejected a request for a hotel sex trafficking lawsuit MDL. The first was in early 2020, at which time the panel determined that separate U.S. District Judges in various different courts should be able to informally coordinate the litigation.

Over the past four years, the number of claims has increased, with more than 100 plaintiffs currently pursuing claims in about two dozen federal courts. The lawsuits have been filed against major operators of nationwide chains, including Hilton, Red Roof, Best Western and others, each raising similar allegations that profits were placed before the safety of individuals being sexually exploited in their rooms and on their properties.

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 a hotel sex trafficking lawsuit MDL in January 2024.

According to the motion, attempts at informal coordination over the past four years have resulted in wasted judicial resources, duplicate discovery and inconsistent pretrial rulings. However, several major hotel chains, such as Red Roof, Wyndham and Best Western indicated that they still oppose the creation of a hotel sex trafficking lawsuit MDL, arguing that each claim should be handled individually, due to the varied situations under which each sex trafficking incident occurred.

Hotel Sex Trafficking Lawsuit Consolidation Denied

The JPML held oral arguments on the motion on March 28, and released an Order Denying Transfer (PDF) on April 11, indicating that it doubts consolidation at this point would lead to efficient coordination, due to the wide variety of defendant hotel operators involved in the claims, specific facts relevant to each individual incident and other factors that set each case apart.

In addition, the panel also rejected the idea of forming separate MDLs based around each major defendant hotel chain.

“Here, case-specific facts relating to the alleged involved parties, the relevant time periods, and each plaintiff’s experiences are so varied that the purported common factual questions appear to be vastly overwhelmed by individual inquiries, which would make common pretrial proceedings inefficient in this instance,” they determined.

While plaintiffs indicated there were 1,700 prospective claims waiting to be filed, the JPML expressed doubt over that number.

“When we first denied centralization in 2020, plaintiffs predicted that as many as 1,500 cases would be filed, nearly as many as the 1,700 cases movants now predict,” the JPML wrote. “In the four years since we first denied centralization, nowhere near 1,500 cases have been filed. To be sure, there are more than twice as many actions included on the motion for centralization today than there were in 2020, but more than half of the cases are pending in two courts.”

The decision means that the cases will continue to proceed as individual hotel sex trafficking lawsuits in the various district courts nationwide.

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