JPML to Weigh Consolidation of Hotel Sex Trafficking Lawsuits This Week

Oral arguments will be heard on March 28, for a panel of judges to decide for the second time whether all hotel sex trafficking lawsuits filed in the federal courts should be consolidated in one court as part of an MDL.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) will hear oral arguments this week to determine whether to consolidate hundreds of sex trafficking lawsuits being pursued against major hotel and motel chains throughout the federal court system, and centralize the claims before one judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

The panel of federal judges previously rejected a similar request for a hotel sex trafficking lawsuit MDL (multidistrict litigation) in early 2020, after determining that separate U.S. District Judges in various different courts should be able to informally coordinate the litigation. However, at that time, there were only about two dozen claims filed nationwide, and the scope of the litigation has grown dramatically over the past few years.

There are now at least 1,700 plaintiffs pursuing hotel sex trafficking lawsuits 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. Plaintiffs maintain that the hotel operators should be held financially liable for failing to enact and enforce procedures that would have prevented sex trafficking at their hotels and motels.

Hotel Sex Trafficking MDL Hearing This Week

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. However, several major hotel chains, such as Red Roof, Wyndham and Best Western, have responded by indicating 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.

In February, the JPML issued a notice of hearing session (PDF) indicating that it will hear oral arguments over consolidation of the hotel sex trafficking lawsuits at its upcoming meeting on March 28, at the U.S. District Court Hollings Judicial Annex in Charleston, South Carolina. At that time, the parties will try to persuade the court to either consolidate the claims before one federal judge or allow them to continue separately.

In addition to determining whether claims brought throughout the federal court system should all be transferred to one U.S. District Court for pretrial proceedings, the panel will also determine the most appropriate venue for any hotel sex trafficking MDL. Of the complaints currently filed, the scheduling order indicates that the vast majority are currently pending in the Southern District of Ohio.

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 wrongdoing, 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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