In a pioneering human trafficking case brought in the Eastern District of Michigan federal court (Docket No. 2:15-cv-10724) by Nakisha Chaney of NachtLaw P.C, Judge Stephen J. Murphy, III this week entered a half-million-dollar judgment against Michigan psychiatrist Mamoun Dabbagh for his role in a human trafficking scheme. The landmark decision, described by Martina Vandenberg of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center as “a tremendous victory for human trafficking survivors,” concludes more than a year of contested litigation in which Plaintiff sought to hold Dr. Dabbagh accountable for providing prescriptions for pills that her trafficker used to forcibly drug her.
Relying on 18 U.S.C. § 1595, a relatively little known federal law that allows victims to sue anyone who knowingly financially benefits from participating in a human trafficking scheme, Plaintiff Jane Doe sued Dr. Dabbagh for helping her trafficker forcibly drug her with Adderall by providing prescriptions for pills. After a lengthy period of contested litigation and Dr. Dabbagh’s subsequent disappearance, the Court entered judgment against Dr. Dabbagh, ordering him to pay Plaintiff more than $500,000.00 in damages, fees and costs.
Notably, this is the first known civil judgment to hold a third-party facilitator liable under this theory of liability. Remarking on the importance of this judgment, Ms. Vandenberg observed, “This is an enormously significant judgment in a case that reflects the pioneering use of human trafficking laws to hold a third-party facilitator accountable . . . The judgment is a reminder that the survivor’s right to sue those who knowingly benefit from their participation in trafficking is a powerful weapon in combating and deterring human trafficking.”
Plaintiff’s attorney, Nakisha Chaney, praised the Court’s decision. “This is a landmark decision from the judge and a victory for human trafficking survivors. Human trafficking cannot exist on the scope on which it does without help from facilitators, who, for profit or personal benefit, lend their services and resources to human traffickers while turning a blind eye to the fact that they are supporting the commodification of human beings for sex and labor. State and federal laws that allow survivors to go after people who facilitate and participate with traffickers for financial or other benefits are a critical tool in combating human trafficking. Such laws raise the legal and financial stakes for people who think that they are shielded from liability because they are not trafficking people themselves. The law worked as it should in this case and Dr. Dabbagh was held legally accountable. I especially thank Judge Murphy for his impartial consideration and for rightly bringing this difficult case to a just and prompt resolution.”
Click here for a copy of the judgment.
Martina Vandenberg, who is quoted herein, is President of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center. She can be reached at 202.716.8485.
The Fight Against Human Trafficking
The fight against human trafficking takes different forms. Law enforcement obviously must take the lead — and this prosecution is a very important step.
Backpage has been a hub nationally for sex trafficked minors. There is a First Amendment right to create an online page for classified advertising. But there is not a First Amendment right to engage in conspiracy to break laws. All conspiracy cases involve speech by the alleged criminals: be they drug dealers, bank robbers, terrorists or pimps.
Some “Legitimate” businesses thrive only because pimps kidnap and enslave young people and women.
Our firm has taken a lead in filing civil actions by survivors against those who profit from human trafficking. In a pathbreaking case, Nakisha Chaney of Nachtlaw obtained a judgment of over $500,000 against a doctor who provided drugs to a pimp to keep the survivors under control.
Michigan Enacts the Human Trafficking Victims Compensation Act
On October 15, 2014, Governor Rick Snyder signed the Human Trafficking Victims Compensation Act, 2014 Public Act 339. As part of a powerful package of anti-trafficking bills championed by Senator Judy Emmons and sponsored by legislators on both sides of the aisle, the Act empowers survivors to seek damages from offenders in civil court for a broad range of physical, emotional, psychological and economic harm, including:
•· physical pain and suffering;
•· mental anguish;
•· fright and shock;
•· denial of social pleasure and enjoyment;
•· embarrassment, humiliation and mortification;
•· aggravation of preexisting ailments or conditions;
•· reasonable expenses of necessary medical or psychological care, treatment and services;
•· loss of earnings or earning capacity;
•· damage to property; and
•· any other necessary and reasonable expense incurred as a result of the violation.
Michigan’s Trafficking Victims Compensation Act empowers survivors to seek civil redress in state court within three years after the last violation and regardless of whether the offender is charged or convicted in criminal court. Survivors may also seek relief in federal court under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, 18 U.S.C. 1595, which allows a civil action against the perpetrator (or whoever knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value from participation in a venture which that person knew or should have known involved sex or labor trafficking). Survivors generally have ten years to pursue their federal claims.
Michigan’s new civil cause of action provides survivors with an additional avenue of recovery and the potential for some measure of justice. It is a welcomed step forward in the anti-trafficking effort.