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Lagayan v. Odeh

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 2, 2016

Fattima Lagayan, Plaintiff,
Mustafa Odeh, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Fattima Lagayan claims that Defendant Mustafa Odeh and his wife, Defendant Sama Atallah, illegally trafficked her into the United States and forced her to work for them without pay. She has sued Defendants under various federal statutes and asserted several common law torts. Before the court is Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss, in which Defendants seek to dismiss nine claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Those counts are: (1) Counts I through V for violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1595; (2) Count VI for conspiracy to violate 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) and the Thirteenth Amendment, and Count IX for civil conspiracy; (3) Count XII for fraudulent inducement; and (4) Count XIII for false imprisonment.

         For the reasons discussed below, the court grants Defendants’ Motion in part and denies it in part. The court holds that Plaintiff has stated plausible claims under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, for civil conspiracy, and for fraudulent inducement. The court, however, holds that Plaintiff has not made out claims of conspiracy to violate 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) and the Thirteenth Amendment and therefore will dismiss those claims. Additionally, the court, by Plaintiff’s consent, will dismiss her claim for false imprisonment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         In 2009, Plaintiff-a citizen of the Philippines-was employed as a domestic worker when she was recruited to work abroad. Compl., ECF No. 1 [hereinafter Compl.], ¶¶ 14, 16. Two years later, the agency that recruited her smuggled her out of the Philippines and, after stops in Malaysia and Bahrain, brought her to its offices in Jordan. Id. ¶¶ 18-24. Plaintiff then signed a contract obligating her to work for two years for whomever the agency selected. Id. ¶ 26. Shortly thereafter, she was placed with Defendant Lama Odeh (“Lama”), a resident of Jordan. Id. ¶ 27. Plaintiff has yet to serve Lama with the Complaint; therefore, she is not before the court.

         From March 2011 to November 2012, Plaintiff worked for Lama, who held her passport. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. During the course of her employment, Plaintiff was “physically, emotionally, and verbally abus[ed].” Id. ¶ 32. Lama called her an “animal” and even “threatened to kill Plaintiff because Defendant Lama felt . . . Plaintiff had not performed a domestic task adequately.” Id. ¶¶ 32-33. Twice, Plaintiff escaped through a window and went to the agency to complain about her treatment, but she was ignored and sent back to work for Lama. Id. ¶ 34. After the second attempted escape, Lama asked Plaintiff if she would like to work for Lama’s brother-Defendant Mustafa Odeh (“Mustafa”)-in the United States, but “Plaintiff said no.” Id. ¶ 35. Lama asked two more times, but she received the same negative response each time. Id.

         In October 2012, Lama told Plaintiff that Plaintiff would be accompanying her family for a month-long trip to the United States with Mustafa. Id. ¶ 36. A week before the trip, however, Lama told Plaintiff that Plaintiff instead would be travelling alone to the United States to work for Mustafa for the month-long period. Id. ¶¶ 36-37. While Plaintiff did not want to go, she “felt that she was required to do so.” Id. ¶ 37.

         In early November 2012, Lama arranged for Plaintiff to be dropped off at the airport where she received her passport. Id. ¶ 38. She then boarded a plane to Dubai, where Mustafa was waiting for her. Id. There, Mustafa told Plaintiff that she would be working for him for seven months and that he would pay her “at the same rate Defendant Lama had plus a little more[.]” Id. Mustafa took Plaintiff’s passport for the duration of the flight, gave it back to her as they went through customs and immigration, and then seized it again before they left the airport in the United States. Id. ¶ 39. Mustafa and his wife, Defendant Sama Atallah (“Atallah”)-the court will collectively refer to Mustafa and Atallah as “Defendants” in this Memorandum Opinion-kept Plaintiff’s passport hidden in their home for the entirety of Plaintiff’s stay with them. Id.

         From the time Plaintiff arrived in the United States on November 5, 2012, she worked for Defendants as a “live-in domestic worker.” Id. ¶¶ 40-41. During that time, Plaintiff worked each day of the week, including weekends, from 7 or 8 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m. Id. ¶¶ 43-44. Plaintiff was required to perform various household chores, including preparing meals, doing dishes, caring for Defendants’ young child, and cleaning the house. Id. ¶ 44. She was not permitted to speak to anyone outside the family-“particularly other Filipinos, ” id. ¶ 49-nor was she allowed to leave the apartment by herself, id. ¶ 46. Plaintiff claims that she “could not have left the . . . apartment building on her own in any event, because the elevator to Defendants’ floor required a key card to operate[, ]” which she did not have. Id. ¶ 48. Although Plaintiff was permitted to contact her family in the Philippines, she was allowed to do so only once a month for ten to thirty minutes. Id. ¶ 46. In addition, when Defendants’ family entertained guests, Mustafa’s father often verbally abused Plaintiff. Id.

         Plaintiff was afraid to break Defendants’ rules “because of her experience in Jordan” with Lama. Id. ¶ 49. While she “did not know precisely what would happen if she violated the rules . . . she understood them as threats.” Id. Because she did not speak English, she had no knowledge of the United States legal system-or her immigration status. And, because she did not have access to her passport, Plaintiff “feared that if she tried to talk to a police officer, she would be arrested and deported.” Id.

         Initially, Mustafa asked Plaintiff whether she would prefer to be paid monthly or at the end of her time with Defendants. Id. ¶ 50. Even though she asked to be paid monthly, Mustafa said he would hold her wages, as it would be “safer” for him to do so. Id. A few months into her time with Defendants, Plaintiff informed them that her father was ill, had been hospitalized, and needed money for treatment. Id. ¶ 51. At first Defendants told Plaintiff that they would pay her “tomorrow, ” and then that they would pay her upon returning to Jordan, but they never did. Id. Plaintiff began to believe that Defendants would never pay her. Id. ¶¶ 51-52.

         Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff gained the attention of a Filipina woman-Sofia Maulana- during one of the family’s weekly trips to the mosque. Id. ¶ 53. Recognizing that Plaintiff was scared to speak to her, Maulana wrote her name and phone number on a napkin and gave it to Plaintiff when Mustafa was not looking. Id. A week or so later, Plaintiff called Maulana late at night to ask for help. Id. ¶ 54. Together, they planned Plaintiff’s escape. In late March 2013, Plaintiff packed her belongings and fled Defendants’ apartment late at night to meet Maulana. Id. ¶¶ 54-55.

         B. Procedural History

         On November 4, 2015, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this court against Mustafa, Atallah, and Lama. See generally Compl. As noted, Plaintiff only has served Mustafa and Atallah; therefore, they are the only Defendants before the court. Defendants answered some of the claims, [1]and moved to dismiss as to others. See generally Defs.’ Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of their Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 10-1 [hereinafter Mot. to Dismiss]. Their Partial Motion to Dismiss is now ripe for consideration.


         In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept the plaintiff’s factual allegations as true and “construe the complaint ‘in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.’” Hettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). The court need not accept as true “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or “inferences . . . unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint, ” Kowal v. MCI Commc’ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint 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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The factual allegations in the complaint need not be “detailed”; however, the Federal Rules demand more than “an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). If the facts as alleged fail to ...

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