From today’s decision by Judge Jeffrey Helmick (ND Ohio) in Doe 1 vs. Gupta:
On March 19, 2020, a federal grand jury indicted Manish Raj Gupta on one count of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, in violation of 18 USC §§ 1591(a) and (b)(1), and one count of distribution of a controlled substance. To illegally censor, in violation of 21 USC §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(7). These charges stemmed from allegations that Manish surreptitiously drugged women before having sex with them without their consent. Manish subsequently pleaded guilty to both charges and was sentenced to 235 months in prison by my colleague Judge James J. Carr.
On June 26, 2022, two of Manish’s alleged victims initiated this lawsuit, asserting claims against Manish, his father (Raj Gupta), and his now ex-wife (Shradha Gupta) for: (1) forced labor under 18 USC §§ 1589 and 1595; (2) Trafficking in connection with slavery, servitude, involuntary servitude, or forced labor under 18 USC §§ 1590 and 1595; (3) human trafficking under California Civil Code § 52.5; (4) The action taken by the human trafficking victim pursuant to Nevada Revised Statutes Annotated § 41.1399; (5) Human trafficking pursuant to Ohio Revised Code § 2905.32; (6) Forced Labor and Labor Trafficking, Michigan Human Trafficking Victim Protection Law MCL § 752.983, § 750.462(b); and (7) fraudulent conveyance, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code § 1336.04….
Manish was previously a board-certified plastic surgeon and owner of Artisan Surgery Center, LLC. Prosecutors allege that Manish began drugging and sexually assaulting women, including women like the plaintiffs who worked as escorts, as early as 2013. Manish allegedly used prescription drugs he obtained through his medical practice to incapacitate the women before filming himself performing Sexual acts with them.
The court allowed the lawsuit to be filed against the rapist, not the wife:
In addition to claims against perpetrators, 18 U.S. Code § 1595 allows victims to bring a civil action against “anyone who knowingly benefits, attempts or conspires to benefit, financially or by receiving anything of value from participation in an enterprise known to that person or He should have.” The person known to have participated in an infringing act [the TVPA]”…
As Manish Gupta’s wife, Shraddha Gupta received a letter from Jane Doe 1 in 2016 detailing the horrific actions Manish forced upon her. On receiving this message, Shraddha did nothing. She kept the letter, but it did nothing to uncover the facts of Manish’s behaviour. Her inaction enabled Manish Gupta to continue trafficking women, leading to his second rape of Jane Doe 2 in 2017.
But neither the statutory language nor case law supports plaintiffs’ claim that Congress intended Sections 1589 and 1590 to impose liability on a defendant based simply on marital or familial relationship. Instead, plaintiffs must plausibly allege that Shraddha knew she was receiving something of value from engaging in a business or business relationship….
But even if marriage could provide part of the required relationship between perpetrator and beneficiary, prosecutors cannot stand on that claim alone. in AD v. Choice Hotels International, Inc. (MD Fla. 2023), the court dismissed plaintiff’s claims against the hotel franchisee because plaintiff “did not adequately plead that [the franchisor] Participate in the sex trafficking enterprise beyond sharing the common revenue As part of its natural role As a franchisee.”
Prosecutors did not allege that Shraddha had any involvement in Manish’s alleged venture other than that the two were married. This allegation is not enough to prove that Shraddha is responsible for Manish’s actions….
[Plaintiffs argue that:]
Based on the letter and other indications, Shraddha Gupta knew or should have known that Manish was involved in human trafficking…. Shraddha Gupta and Manish Gupta merged their assets together and Shraddha retained control of Manish’s profits and assets from Artisan and interest[ted] who are they…. The widespread mingling and collaboration between the two made Shraddha involved in the craftsmanship…. In fact, Shraddha received such widespread benefit from the projects that the court understood in Case 3:20CR208 that Shraddha would be liable to pay damages to Jane Doe 1. Shraddha Gupta accepted approximately 9 million in assets from Manish during their divorce knowing that many of these The assets were proceeds from the venture through which Manish conducted his illegal activities.
[But p]The plaintiffs offer no basis on which to conclude that the alleged “extensive mingling and cooperation” had a business, rather than a marital, purpose. Other than the fact that she is married to Manish, the plaintiffs do not allege any facts linking Shraddha to Artisan. Judge Carr’s restitution order also does not impose a different outcome. Shraddha’s receipt of the couple’s assets in divorce proceedings, after Manish pleaded guilty to the criminal charges against him, does not prove that Shraddha knowingly participated in an enterprise that fell within the scope of the law….
The court held the same for Ohio’s human trafficking law:
The plaintiffs contend that they should be allowed to proceed with this claim because Ohio’s “definition of ‘traffic’ is sufficiently broader than what federal law provides. Specifically, the law reaches those who ‘offer, obtain, [or] Maintaining “the other knowing that the other will be subjected to sex or labor trafficking.”
But the plaintiffs’ allegations about Shraddha’s behavior do not match the legal provisions. This point is most clearly illustrated in the original complaint, where plaintiffs allege that Shraddha “did nothing” after she learned of Jane Doe 1’s allegations about Manish’s actions. Section 2905.32 is a criminal statute that requires an individual to act “knowingly” and “as a principal.” Plaintiffs have not explained how their allegations of Shraddha’s “inaction” reasonably suggest that she took any action to “provide, obtain, [or] Preserve” any of the plaintiffs as required by law.
The plaintiffs’ proposed amendments also don’t help, as Ohio law only provides a civil cause of action against “trafficists.” None of Plaintiffs’ new allegations support the necessary inference that Shraddha intentionally took any active steps to coerce any of Plaintiffs to engage in sexual activity. Therefore, I deny their motion for leave to amend the complaint with respect to Count V as frivolous.