PORTSMOUTH — In a split decision, a federal judge has moved forward a lawsuit alleging four hotel chains are responsible for staff ignoring “the open and obvious presence of sex trafficking on their properties, enjoying the profit from rooms rented for this explicit and apparent purpose instead.”
In a Sept. 28 order, Judge Andrea Johnstone ruled on the civil suit brought by Portsmouth attorney Michael Rainboth, on behalf of a woman identified as “K.B.” She is described in court records as a “vulnerable adult,” who was trafficked in New Hampshire hotels for two years, while her trafficker “bought, sold and required her to sexually service paying strangers as she endured brutal physical assaults, psychological torment, verbal abuse, and false imprisonment at the defendant’s hotels as the defendants did nothing but profit from her exploitation.”
In the judge’s new order, she notes allegations include that K.B. was “forced to perform commercial sex acts on average between 6-10 men each day, sometimes even more and repeatedly visited the Defendants’ hotels. K.B. would often exit the hotel in view of the front desk crying while her trafficker yelled at her.”
Rainboth’s Dec. 9 suit is filed against Intercontinental Hotels Corporation, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Best Western International and Marriott international. He alleges his client was trafficked in multiple New Hampshire locations between 2016 and 2018 and she is suing the four lodging entities under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization and state law.
K.B.’s suit alleges negligence, negligent supervision and training, and unjust enrichment. For the negligence claim, the judge found sufficient evidence has been presented to date to proceed under the theory that the hotel entities are vicariously liable. The hotel companies argued the allegations pertain to franchises under their brands.
The judge granted a motion to dismiss the negligent supervision and training count, noting K.B. hasn’t alleged employees at specific hotels worked for the named companies, but ordered the dismissal is without prejudice and can be refiled to correct the “defect.”
The judge found in favor of the hotel companies in dismissing the claim of unjust enrichment. She wrote that claim requires a contract and K.B. did not provide any evidence of such.
The judge granted Rainboth’s motion to proceed with the suit while identifying the woman as “K.B.” and instructed the parties to confer, prior to a Nov. 4 pre-trial conference, “in order to explore a mutually agreed-upon protective order that protects the plaintiff and ensures that the defendants can conduct the discovery to which they are entitled.”
Rainboth’s lawsuit cites multiple published reports calling hotels and motels, both luxury and budget, “ideal venues for crime and sex trafficking in particular.” His suit references nationally reported news stories about sex trafficking at hotels across the country.
One of them is a December 2018 federal case that alleged a husband and wife engaged in an interstate sex trafficking and prostitution scheme, including at three motels in Portsmouth, one in Dover and a fifth in Kittery, Maine. An indictment for that case alleged Shou Chao Li and Derong Miao transported woman to various residences and motels throughout New England “and deprived them of documents, food, clothing, room keys and other things to ensure they were unable to leave such locations without the consent and assistance of the defendants and their co-conspirators.”
In a footnote to her recent order, Judge Johnstone wrote the reports of the other unrelated cases, “bolster allegations that these defendants should have had some knowledge of sex trafficking at their branded hotels.”