Renewed Motion Filed to Centralize Human Trafficking Lawsuits Against Hotel Industry

The request comes on behalf of a federal judge who says judicial resources are being wasted due to a lack of coordination for hotel sex trafficking lawsuits.

At the request of a Chief U.S. District Judge in Ohio, a group of plaintiffs are asking the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to reconsider consolidating all human trafficking lawsuits filed against the hotel industry, which have been filed by survivors of the sex trade throughout the United States, each raising similar allegations that hotels profited from sex trafficking at their facilities.

The JPML previously rejected a prior request to centralize all hotel sex trafficking lawsuits in 2020, indicating it believed district courts nationwide would be able to informally coordinate the litigation, without the need to transfer the cases to one U.S. District Judge for centralized management in a multidistrict litigation (MDL).

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.

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.

With lawsuits now moving forward against the hotel industry in at least 21 different U.S. District Courts, plaintiffs have again filed a motion to transfer (PDF) the cases to one U.S. District judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

The motion was filed on January 9, indicating that 12 plaintiffs are joining together to make the request at the behest of Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Plaintiffs indicate that Chief Judge Marbley believes that it is time for the U.S. JPML to reconsider the creation of a hotel sex trafficking lawsuit MDL, and transfer the cases to his control.

Marbley is currently overseeing 29 human trafficking lawsuits against hotels, as well as 11 other similar cases in his district, plaintiffs note. He has attempted informal coordination of the cases since 2019, the motion indicates.

“Chief Judge Marbley expressed to the parties that he saw significant changes in this litigation since this Honorable Panel first considered centralization making it appropriate to ask for reconsideration,” the plaintiffs’ motion states. “Chief Judge Marbley also expressed his desire to be designated as the transferee judge, with the benefit of the procedural resources available if this Panel creates a multidistrict litigation.”

Informal coordination efforts have led to wasted judicial resources, duplicate and inconsistent rulings, according to the motion, which indicates that several pretrial issues have been relitigated in case after case.

“For instance, the parties have litigated the same issues related to Plaintiff identity protections and confidentiality more than twenty-eight (28) times,” they wrote. “Similarly, confidentiality orders covering predominantly the same time period and the same production from the same defendants have been heard and ruled on by more than fifteen (15) different federal judges. This protracted motion practice continues to result in many months of delays in the litigation.”

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.

Previously, many of the hotel chains opposed consolidating the sex trafficking lawsuits, arguing that there is no common link between the claims to justify centralizing the cases before one judge. However, it is currently unclear whether they continue to hold that stance.

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