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Roe v. Howard

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

January 3, 2018

Sarah Roe, Plaintiff,
Linda Howard, Defendant,

          Hon. John F. Anderson



         This matter comes before the Court on three of Defendant's Motions for Judgment as a Mailer of Law. Dkt. Nos. 98, 99, and 101. The Motions are fully briefed and the Court heard oral arguments October 20, 2017. Defendant Linda Howard argues she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law for three reasons- first, because the statute of limitations on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) at the time of the relevant conduct would have barred the suit: second, as to Count III of the complaint, because the sexual abuse of Plaintiff Sarah Roe, a domestic worker, did not cause Ms. Roe "to engage in a commercial sex act" as defined under 18 U.S.C. § 1591; and third, because the TVPA proscriptions cannot be applied to Howard's 2007 extraterritorial conduct. For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Ms. Howard judgment as a matter of law on all points. A separate order has issued. Dkt. 107.

         Facts of the Case

         Sarah Roe brought this case under 18 U.S.C. § 1595, which provides a civil remedy for violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). On July 3 1. 201 7. alter a four-day trial, a jury found defendant Linda Howard liable for forced labor in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1589, forced labor trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1590, commercial sex trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591, and conspiring to engage in those offenses in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1594. The parties established the following facts at trial.

         In 2007. while a U.S. citizen, employed by the State Department, and living in U.S. embassy housing, Linda Howard conspired with her husband, Russell Howard (deceased prior to trial) to entice plaintiff Sarah Roe into their employment as a live-in housekeeper. Once so employed, Russell I loward subjected Roc to repealed rapes and continuous sexual abuse. Dkt. 33, Stipulated Uncontested Facts ¶ 1.

         Linda Howard spent months befriending Roe prior to hiring her as a housekeeper, including helping Roe obtain a data entry position with the U.S. embassy. Tr. 301:6-8. 305:22-306:24, 308:20-309:9. After the Howards' prior housekeeper lied, Linda Howard succeeded in hiring Roe, offering help with medical treatments, Roe's visa, and monetary compensation. Tr. 317:1-318:15, Linda Howard told Roe that it was Roe's job to "make Russell happy" because he "needs a friend" while he was home and Linda Howard worked. Tr. 321:1-2, 3 18:10-12. Upon moving into the Howards' embassy housing, the Howards presented her with her "uniform, " which consisted of a very short skirt and a revealing blouse and which Linda Howard had sewed. Tr. 323:24-324:6. After Roe refused to wear the uniform, Russell Howard took Roe to the mall and purchased a new uniform for her: a "very revealing" "one-piece" that "opens in the front, " and -underwear . . . with one tiny string" and "many holes." Tr. 323:8-21. After Ms. Roe refused to wear the new uniform. Russell Howard raped her in her bedroom. Tr. 325:8, 325:12-327:24. Russell Howard continuously raped and sexually assaulted Roe for the duration of her time with the Howards and threatened her to keep her silent. Tr. 334:25-335:22. 327:25-329.5. Linda Howard was aware of these assaults. She ''observe[d] Russell Howard touching [Roe] in a sexual manner, " including her intimate parts. Tr. 419:10-16. Russell Howard told Roc that he spoke with his wife about the rapes and Roe once overheard Russell Howard doing just that over the phone. Tr. 329:6-8, 405:1-9. Ultimately, Russell Howard was unhappy with Roe's continuous resistance to his attacks and he fired her. though he continued to have contact with her to keep her silent about what had occurred. Tr. 335:23-336:11, 339:1-18.

         Statute of Limitations

         Ms. Howard contends that a four-year statute o IT imitations should apply to claims in this case, because in 2007, the time of Ms. Howard's relevant conduct, the statute of limitations under the TVPA was lour years. Under a four-year statute of limitations. Ms. Roc's claims would have been lime-barred when this litigation commenced. However, Congress amended the TVPA with the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) in 2008 to provide for a ten-year statute of limitations. At the time of amendment, Ms. Roe's claims were not yet time-barred. Accordingly, she is entitled to the full benefit of the amended statute of limitations.[1]See Cruz v. Maypa. 773 F.3d 138. 144-45 (4th Cir. 2014).

         Ms. Howard also contends that Count IV of the Complaint asserts a common law civil conspiracy in addition to the TVPRA conspiracy, and is therefore subject to Virginia's shorter statute of limitations. While true that the complaint alleged conspiracy both in violation of the TVPRA provisions and common law civil conspiracy (Compl. at 17). the jury found Ms. Howard liable under TVPRA conspiracy, subject to the 10-year statute of limitations discussed supra. Tr. 581:7-10; Jury Instruction No. 29.

         Accordingly, Ms. Howard's motion for judgment as a matter of law based on the defense of the statute of limitations is denied.

         Commercial Sex Acts

         Ms. Howard next argues that she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to Count III of the Complaint because her conduct did not constitute a "commercial sex act" under 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a). The TVPA defines a "commercial sex act" as "any sex act. on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person." 18 U.S.C. § 1591(e)(3). Ms. Howard argues for a narrow interpretation of that definition, one that requires a thing of value to have been paid to the Howards in exchange for Ms. Roe's acts. Dkt. 105 at 4. Ms. Howard further evidences this theory by citing to the testimony of Ms. Roe's expert witness, Florence Burke, who opined at trial that she would not consider sexual abuse of a domestic worker by an employer to constitute "commercial sex, " Dkt. 102 at 7.

         The Court finds this argument unconvincing. Ms. Burke was not qualified as an expert on Congressional intent and Ms. Howard cannot demonstrate that Burke had in mind § 1591(e)(3)'s definition of "commercial sex act" when she testified. See Tr. 215:14-18. Nor was Ms. Burke qualified to opine, as a matter of law, on what kind of conduct is prohibited under § 1591(a). See United States v. McIver,470 F.3d 550. 562 (4th Cir. 2006). Ms. Howard's narrow definition is plainly contradicted by the language of the statute. Congress included the word "any" in reference to every element of the definition - any sex act, anything of value, any person. Here, the Court finds ample evidence to support the jury's verdict as to Count ...

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