United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
December 21, 2016
POONAM BAXLA, Plaintiff,
ASMA CHAUDHRI, et al., Defendant.
C. CACHERIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendants Asma Chaudhri and
Shahzad Chaudhri (collectively, “Defendants”)
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. [Dkt. 13.]
For the following reasons, the Court will deny
Baxla (“Plaintiff” or “Baxla”) brings
this lawsuit against Defendants for claims arising under the
Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection
Reauthorization Act of 2008 (“TVPRA”), 18 U.S.C.
§§ 1581-1597; the Fair Labor Standards Act
(“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219a; and
Virginia law, including claims based upon unjust enrichment
and false imprisonment. All of Plaintiff's claims result
from her employment with Defendants from 2005 until 2015. The
following facts are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint and,
for the purposes of this motion, are presumed true.
Baxla was born in India in or around 1978 or 1979. (Compl.,
¶ 20.) In 1998, she married Sameer Baxla, with whom she
had three daughters. (Id.) The Baxla family lived in
New Delhi, where Ms. Baxla provided childcare and cooking
services and Mr. Baxla worked in construction. (Id.)
In 2004, Mr. Baxla was murdered. (Id., ¶ 21.)
Following his death, Ms. Baxla struggled to find work in
order to support her daughters. (Id., ¶ 22.)
around January 2005, Ms. Baxla's was introduced to a
woman named Nancy. (Compl., ¶ 23.) Nancy offered to find
a job for Ms. Baxla in the United States performing childcare
work, which Ms. Baxla accepted. (Id.) Nancy arranged
for Ms. Baxla's ticket to travel to the United States, as
well as her travel documents, including a two-year visa.
(Id., ¶ 24.) Nancy did not tell Ms. Baxla for
whom she would be working, nor did she mention that the job
would involve housekeeping duties, such as cleaning.
2005, Ms. Baxla flew to the United States. (Id.,
¶ 25.) The Defendants, two people she had never spoken
to or met previously, greeted Ms. Baxla at the airport and
transported her to their home in Falls Church, Virginia.
(Id., ¶¶ 25-26.) Once Ms. Baxla arrived,
she began working for Defendants, providing housekeeping and
Ms. Baxla worked from around five or six in the morning until
eleven or twelve at night, seven days per week. (Compl.,
¶¶ 28, 33.) She cleaned the Defendants' home,
prepared meals, and provided childcare for the
Defendants' daughter. (Id.) Due to her busy
schedule, Ms. Baxla alleges that she was sometimes unable to
find time to eat until she had finished with her work for the
day. (Id., ¶ 29.)
2005 until 2011, Defendants paid Ms. Baxla $350 per month for
her labor. (Id., ¶ 31.) In 2011, Defendants
increased her pay to $400 per month. (Id.) Ms. Baxla
paid for her own expenses, with the exception of food,
sending whatever money she had left back to her three
children in India. (Id., ¶ 6.)
2006, Ms. Baxla returned to India briefly to care for one of
her daughters, who had fallen seriously ill. (Compl., ¶
34.) After Defendants promised to help Ms. Baxla renew her
two-year visa, she returned to the United States to work
again in their home. (Id.)
her employment with Defendants, Ms. Baxla alleges that they
isolated her from the outside world. (Compl., ¶¶
35, 38.) She was instructed not to talk to anyone and warned
that her inability to speak English would raise suspicions
and possibly get her arrested or deported. (Id.,
¶ 35.) Defendants rarely let her leave their home,
especially unaccompanied. (Id., ¶ 36.) Ms.
Baxla was also not permitted to have a phone line or a mobile
phone in her private room and was required to purchase a
calling card to speak to her family. (Id., ¶
39.) In addition, Ms. Baxla had to rely upon Defendants to
arrange for her to transfer whatever money she had saved to
her children back in India. (Id., ¶ 39.) Over
the years she lived with Defendants, and especially after Ms.
Baxla's visa expired in 2007, Defendants' warnings
about the possibility of arrest or deportation increased in
frequency. (Id., ¶¶ 38, 45.)
around 2014, Manju and John Ekka (the “Ekkas”)
learned of Ms. Baxla's situation during a trip to India.
(Compl., ¶ 46.) They reached out to her in an attempt to
help her leave Defendants' home. (Id.) After Ms.
Baxla agreed to accept the Ekkas' help, they contacted a
government agency to ensure that Ms. Baxla could escape the
home safely. (Id., ¶¶ 48-49.) Ms. Baxla
fled Defendants' home on August 24, 2015. (Id.,
filed the instant case on September 26, 2016. [Dkt. 1.] The
Complaint alleges seven different counts, including: (1)
forced labor, in violation of the TVPRA; (2) trafficking with
respect to peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced
labor, in violation of the TVPRA; (3) benefitting financially
from peonage, slavery, and trafficking in persons, in
violation of the TVPRA; (4) conspiracy to violate the TVPRA;
(5) failure to pay the federal minimum wage, in violation of
the FLSA; (6) unjust enrichment; and (7) false imprisonment.
[Id.] On November 2, 2016, Defendant filed this
partial motion to dismiss, asking this Court to dismiss
Counts II, IV, VI, and VII for failure to state a claim.
[Dkt. 13.] Plaintiff filed her opposition on November 14,
2016. [Dkt. 17.] Defendants replied on November 21, 2016.
[Dkt. 18.] Oral argument was held on December 15, 2016. This
motion is now ripe for disposition.
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency
of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests
surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the
applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of
N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992)
(citation omitted). The Supreme Court has stated that in
order “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a [c]omplaint
must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility
when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Id.
whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is]
. . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing
court to draw on its judicial experience and common
sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citations
omitted). While legal conclusions can provide the framework
for a complaint, all claims must be supported by factual
allegations. Id. Based upon these allegations, the
court must determine whether the plaintiff's pleadings
plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id.
Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are not
sufficient, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, nor are
“unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or
arguments, ” E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs.
Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). The
plaintiff, however, does not have to show a likelihood of
success; rather, the complaint must merely allege - directly
or indirectly - each element of a “viable legal
theory.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562-63.
motion to dismiss stage, the court must construe the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, read
the complaint as a whole, and take the facts asserted therein
as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Generally, a
district court does not consider extrinsic materials when
evaluating a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). It may, however,
consider “documents incorporated into the complaint by
reference.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues &
Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007); see also
Blankenship v. Manchin, 471 F.3d 523, 526 n.1 (4th Cir.
2006). In addition, the court may consider documents attached
to the defendant's motion to dismiss if those documents
are central to the plaintiff's claim or are
“sufficiently referred to in the complaint, ” so
long as the plaintiff does not challenge their authenticity.
Witthohn v. Fed. Ins. Co., 164 F. App'x 395,
396-97 (4th Cir. 2006).
point of clarification, Defendants have not moved to dismiss
Plaintiff's claims for: (1) forced labor under the
federal human trafficking laws; (2) restitution under the
federal human trafficking laws; (3) conspiracy with each
other to violate the federal human trafficking laws; or (4)
failure to pay the federal minimum wage in violation of the
FLSA. Rather, Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss only
seeks dismissal of Counts II (trafficking), IV (conspiracy to
commit trafficking with a person known as
“Nancy”), VI (unjust enrichment), and VII (false
imprisonment), alleging that Plaintiff has failed to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court will now
address the sufficiency of Plaintiff's Complaint with
respect to each of the contested counts in turn.
Count II: Human Trafficking in Violation of the
second claim in the Complaint is based upon liability for
human trafficking under the TVPRA. Liability for trafficking
is imposed separately from liability for forced labor or
servitude. See Lagasan v. Al-Ghasel, 92 F.Supp.3d
445, 454 (E.D.N.Y. 2015) (citing Shukla v. Sharma,
2012 WL 481796, at *14 (E.D.N.Y Feb. 14, 2012)). Section 1590
outlines the liability for human trafficking as follows:
“Whoever knowingly recruits, harbors, transports or
obtains by any means, any person for labor or services in
violation of this chapter shall be fined under this title or
imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.” 18 U.S.C.
Complaint alleges that Nancy recruited Ms. Baxla by
“offering to arrange a job in the United States”
for her to perform childcare work. (Compl., ¶ 23.) After
Ms. Baxla accepted Nancy's offer, Nancy arranged for Ms.
Baxla's ticket to travel to the United States and travel
documents, including a two-year visa. (Id., ¶
24.) Plaintiff traveled to the United States in 2005, where
she met Defendants at the airport. (Id.,
¶¶ 4-5.) Ms. Baxla had not met or spoken with the
Defendants previously. (Id., ¶ 5.) Defendants
then transported her from the airport to their home in
Virginia, where she lived, other than for two brief periods,
from 2005 until 2015. (Id., ¶ 6.) During that
time, Ms. Baxla worked for Defendants, providing childcare
and housekeeping services, for $350 per month. 
argue that Plaintiff has made no factual allegations that
they played any active role in recruiting or transporting Ms.
Baxla to the United States. (Def. Mot. at 5.) In support of
this assertion, Defendants claim that Plaintiff has not
established that a relationship existed between Defendants
and Nancy, the person who did recruit Plaintiff and help
arrange her travel to this country. (Id.) In their
reply brief, Defendants also argue that, even if the Court
infers that a relationship did exist, Plaintiff has not
established that the Defendants knew that Nancy had misled
Plaintiff regarding her job duties or pay. (Def. Rep. at 3.)
At its essence, then, Defendants' argument is that
Plaintiff has failed to plead enough facts to establish a
violation of the TVPRA for either recruiting or transporting
Plaintiff to the United States.
reply brief, Defendant also raises an additional argument
that Plaintiff cannot sustain a claim based solely upon
factual allegations that Defendants “harbored”
her in the United States. (Def. Rep. at 4.) Defendants cite
no binding case law to support this proposition, however.
Instead, they point to Plaintiff's
“voluntary” decision to return to their home
after a brief absence in 2006 as proof that she was not
trafficked here. (Id. at 5.)
all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor, as
required under a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court finds that
Plaintiff has stated a claim under Section 1590(a).
Plaintiff's factual allegations, combined with the
reasonable inference that Nancy recruited Ms. Baxla to the
United States in coordination with Defendants, plausibly give
rise to a claim for relief. Plaintiff has also pled
sufficient facts that Defendants harbored Plaintiff in their
home for approximately ten years. Moreover, the Court notes
that liability can attach under Section 1590 to anyone who
“knowingly . . . obtained by any means”
a person whose labor violates federal anti-trafficking laws.
18 U.S.C. § 1590(a) (emphasis added). Defendants'
conduct plausibly gives rise to a claim for relief under this
catchall provision of the statute as well. Accordingly, the
Court will deny Defendants' motion to dismiss Count II.
Count IV: Conspiracy to Violate the TVPRA
fourth claim in the Complaint is based upon Defendants
conspiring with Nancy to violate the TVPRA. Federal
trafficking laws provide a cause of action against
“[w]hoever conspires with another to [commit enumerated
trafficking violations].” 18 U.S.C. § 1594(b).
support a conspiracy claim, the complaint must contain
‘enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest that
an agreement was made.'” Lagayan v. Odeh,
2016 WL 4148189, at *6 (D.D.C. Aug. 2, 2016) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “An allegation of
mere parallel conduct is not enough[, ] . . . [n]or are mere
conclusory allegations.” Id. (citing
Twombly, 550 at 557). Furthermore, in Virginia,
“an allegation of conspiracy, whether criminal or
civil, must at least allege an unlawful act or unlawful
purpose” to survive demurrer. Hechler Chevrolet,
Inc. v. General Motors Corp., 230 Va. 396, 402 (1985).
instant case, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges sufficient
facts from which the Court can plausibly infer that an
agreement existed between Defendants and Nancy. Ms. Baxla
pleaded that Nancy recruited her to work in the United States
by offering to arrange a job providing childcare services.
(Compl., ¶ 23.) Nancy also arranged for Ms. Baxla's
ticket to travel here, as well as her travel documents,
including a two-year visa. (Id., ¶ 24.) Having
never spoken before, Defendants met Ms. Baxla at the airport
and took her to their home to work as a domestic laborer.
(Id., ¶¶ 9, 26.) The only reasonable
inference to draw from these facts is that there was at least
some communication between Nancy and Defendants regarding the
transportation of Plaintiff to the United States for the
purpose of providing labor. As a result, the Complaint
alleges sufficient facts to infer that Defendants reached an
agreement. In addition, Plaintiff has alleged sufficient
facts to establish that an unlawful act occurred as the
result of this agreement, as Plaintiff worked long hours,
seven days per week, for very little pay over the course of
ten years. The Court will therefore deny Defendants'
motion to dismiss Count IV.
Count VI: Unjust Enrichment
sixth claim involves the equitable remedy of unjust
enrichment under Virginia law. Unjust enrichment is a
quasi-contract theory that stands for the proposition that
“a person should not be allowed to retain a benefit
imposed upon him without paying for the services
rendered.” Seagram v. David's Towing &
Recovery, Inc., 62 F.Supp.3d 467, 477 (E.D. Va. 2014)
(internal citations omitted). In Virginia, a claim for unjust
enrichment requires the plaintiff to allege that: (1) she
conferred a benefit on Defendants; (2) Defendants knew of the
benefit and reasonably should have expected to pay for it;
and (3) Defendants accepted or retained the benefit without
paying for its value. Id. (citing Schmidt v.
Household Fin. Corp., II, 276 Va. 108, 116 (2008)). The
Fourth Circuit has previously held that state law claims
based upon unjust enrichment will be “preempted by the
FLSA where those claims merely duplicate FLSA
claims.” Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp., 508 F.3d
181, 194 (4th Cir. 2007).
concede in their reply brief that they are not contesting
that the FLSA applies to the conduct at issue here. (Def.
Rep. at 7.) Although “the FLSA provides an exclusive
statutory remedial scheme” that would normally prevent
FLSA claims and unjust enrichment claims from proceeding
together, the Court recognizes that unresolved legal and
factual disputes regarding Plaintiff's FLSA claim remain.
Choimbol v. Fairfield Resorts, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 86225, at *22-23 (E.D. Va. Sept. 11, 2006). Moreover,
Plaintiff suggested at oral argument that she is seeking
slightly different remedies for each claim. Accordingly, at
this early stage of the proceedings - without the benefit of
discovery to determine if these two claims are, in fact,
coterminous - the Court will deny Defendants' motion to
dismiss Count VI.
Count VII: False Imprisonment
final claim involves false imprisonment under Virginia state
law. Virginia defines false imprisonment as “the
restraint of one's liberty without sufficient
cause.” Zaklit v. Global Linguist Solutions,
LLC, 53 F.Supp.3d 835, 846 (E.D. Va. Sept. 16, 2014)
(citing Zayre of Va. Inc. v. Gowdy, 207 Va. 47, 50
(1966)). More specifically, “[i]f a person is under a
reasonable apprehension that force will be used unless he
willingly submits, and he does submit to the extent that he
is denied freedom of action, this, in legal contemplation,
constitutes false imprisonment.” Zayre, 207
Va. at 51. Importantly, the threat of force does not need to
come from the defendant(s) directly, but can involve the
threat of involving other individuals who might use force,
such as immigration officials or police officers. See,
e.g., Lagasan, 92 F.Supp.3d at 456-57 (granting claim
for false imprisonment because plaintiff's traffickers
confined her to their residences and denied her access to
anyone who could help her); Cundiff v. CVS Caremark
Corp., 86 Va. Cir. 155 (2013) (denying a motion to
dismiss a false imprisonment claim when employer threatened
to call the police and hire an attorney).
argument that Plaintiff's false imprisonment claim should
be dismissed because they never threatened to use force
directly against her is in direct conflict with the case law.
Moreover, Defendants' assertion that Plaintiff's
decision to voluntarily return to their home twice should
defeat any claim for false imprisonment is likewise
unpersuasive. Plaintiff has alleged that she decided to
return to Defendants' home in 2006 after they promised to
renew her visa. (Compl., ¶ 34.) However, Defendants
failed to do so, letting Plaintiff's visa expire in 2007.
(Id., ¶¶ 35-36, 37.) Once Plaintiff's
visa expired, she alleges that Defendants increasingly warned
her that she might be reported to law enforcement authorities
and possibly deported or arrested. (Id., ¶ 38.)
Furthermore, in 2014, Mr. Chaudhri accused Ms. Baxla of
mistreating the family dog, threatened to initiate
deportation proceedings against her, and kicked her out of
the house. (Id., ¶ 40.) Defendants again
reassured her that, if she returned, they would increase her
pay and renew her visa. (Id.) Neither promise ever
materialized. (See id., ¶¶ 6, 42.)
on the facts as alleged, Ms. Baxla exhibited reasonable
apprehension that force would be used against her if she did
not return to Defendants' home. Thus, her decision to
return twice can hardly be characterized as voluntary.
Complaint also alleges that Defendants forbade Ms. Baxla from
leaving their home unaccompanied, never gave her a key to the
house, and instructed her to speak to no one,
“especially other Indian people.” (Compl., ¶
7.) Defendants also warned Plaintiff that others would be
suspicious of her inability to speak English and implied that
such suspicions could lead to deportation or jail.
(Id.) Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that she had no
access to a phone in her private room and had to rely upon
Defendants to transfer money back to her children in India.
(Id., ¶ 39.)
together, Plaintiff's Complaint contains sufficient
factual allegations to state a plausible claim for relief
under Virginia law. Accordingly, the Court will deny
Defendants' motion to dismiss Count VII.
reasons set forth above, the Court will deny Defendants'
partial motion to dismiss.
appropriate order will follow.
 Plaintiff alleges that Defendants
stopped paying her altogether in the summer of 2015, leaving
her with no means to support her children. (Compl., ¶
 Plaintiff's wages were eventually
increased to $400 per month. (Compl., ¶ 6.)