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Ropes & Gray Represents Freedom Network USA in Key First Circuit Sex Trafficking Amicus

On April 5, the First Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a key sex trafficking case, Ricchio v. McLean, in which Ropes & Gray submitted amicus curiae brief on behalf of Freedom Network USA, a national network of practitioners and human rights organizations, in support of plaintiff-appellant Lisa Ricchio.

Ms. Ricchio, a victim of human trafficking, was appealing a Massachusetts district court decision dismissing her civil claims against defendant motel owners of the Shangri-La in Seekonk, Massachusetts, who profited from her trafficking and failed to assist her or call authorities, under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).

On appeal, the First Circuit, in an opinion authored by retired U.S. Supreme Court associate justice David Souter, sitting by designation, agreed with plaintiff-appellant and Freedom Network and reversed the district court decision, allowing Ms. Ricchio to proceed with her claim against the motel owners.

This is a landmark decision, as it is the first ever to allow a victim of human trafficking to seek civil damages against a third party or hotel for profiting from a victim’s trafficking, and failing to act when trafficking and abuse is readily apparent.

Ms. Ricchio was lured away from her home in Maine under false pretenses by her captor to the Shangri-La, where he held her in captivity for days against her will and repeatedly raped, drugged, and starved her, and left visibly haggard and bruised.

The defendant owners of the motel witnessed her abuse on multiple occasions but ignored her pleas for help, including in one instance merely watching as Ms. Ricchio’s captor dragged her screaming back into his room when she tried to escape, and in another instance requesting additional money from Ms. Ricchio’s captor when it became apparent he was enslaving her in his room.

Ropes & Gray submitted a compelling 33 page brief detailing the congressional intent behind the TVPRA in protecting human trafficking victims, further arguing that Ricchio pleaded sufficient allegations to state a claim under the TVPRA, and that the district court judge misapplied Iqbal and Twombly by failing to make reasonable inferences based on the contextual background of her allegations as a whole. Justice Souter and the First Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, and found that the district court judge failed to consider the whole body of Ms. Ricchio’s allegations and the circumstantial meaning those allegations supplied to particular acts by the Patels. Considering Ms. Ricchio’s factual allegations as a whole and reasonable inferences in her favor, they found that Ms. Ricchio satisfied the pleading standard of Iqbal and Twombly. Ms. Ricchio will now have the opportunity to conduct discovery and argue her case before the district court.

The Ropes & Gray cross-office team included e-discovery counsel Shannon Capone Kirk, litigation associates M. Dalton Rodriguez and Leon Kotlyar, and IP litigation associate A.J. Sutton. It also included former IP litigation associate Diana Santos.

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