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Miranda Ditullio v. Josef F. Boehm

November 7, 2011


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Alaska John W. Sedwick, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No.3:09-cv-00113-JWS

The opinion of the court was delivered by: B. Fletcher:



Argued and Submitted July 25, 2011-Anchorage, Alaska

Before: Betty B. Fletcher, Andrew J. Kleinfeld, and Consuelo M. Callahan, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge B. Fletcher; Dissent by Judge Callahan


In November 2004, appellee Josef Boehm pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in human trafficking, and admitted that between 2001 and December 22, 2003, he conspired with others to provide controlled substances to several minors and recruited them to engage in sexual activity. Appellant Miranda Ditullio alleges that she is one of the victims identified in Boehm's plea agreement and seeks compensatory and punitive damages under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1589 et seq. (hereinafter "TVPA"). Ditullio's complaint requests compensatory damages in excess of $5 million, punitive damages of up to $20 million, interests, costs, and attorney's fees.

After denying Ditullio's motion for summary judgment, and Boehm's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the district court certified an interlocutory appeal on two questions of first impression: (1) whether the TVPA permits recovery of punitive damages, and (2) whether the TVPA's civil action provision, 18 U.S.C. § 1595 (which became effective on December 19, 2003), applies retroactively to conduct occurring before its effective date, particularly when the perpetrator may have engaged in sex trafficking after the statute's effective date. We hold that the TVPA permits recovery of punitive damages because it creates a cause of action that sounds in tort and punitive damages are available in tort actions under the common law. We also hold that 18 U.S.C. § 1595 cannot be applied retroactively to conduct that occurred before its effective date.


When it enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, Congress declared that the purposes of the TVPA are to "combat trafficking in persons, a contemporary manifestation of slavery whose victims are predominantly women and children, to ensure just and effective punishment of traffickers, and to protect their victims." Pub. L. No. 106-386, § 102, 114 Stat. 1488 (2000) (codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. § 1589 et seq.). As relevant here, the TVPA makes it a federal crime to knowingly: recruit[ ], entice[ ], harbor[ ], transport[ ], provide[ ], obtain[ ] or maintain[ ] by any means a person . . . knowing, or in reckless disregard of the fact, that means of force, threats of force, fraud, coercion . . . or any combination of such means will be used to cause the person to engage in a commercial sex act.

18 U.S.C. § 1591(a). In 2003, Congress reauthorized appropriations for the TVPA and amended it in order to "enhanc[e] provisions on prevention of trafficking, protection of victims of trafficking, and prosecution of traffickers." H.R. Rep. No. 108-264 (I), at 8 (2003). In particular, Congress created a private right of civil action for victims of trafficking. 18 U.S.C. § 1595 (hereinafter "§ 1595" or "civil remedy provision"). The civil remedy provision currently provides:

An individual who is a victim of a violation may bring 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 has engaged in an act in violation of this chapter) in an appropriate district court of the United States and may recover damages and reasonable attorneys fees.

18 U.S.C. § 1595(a).*fn1 Section 1595 became effective on December 19, 2003. See Pub. L. 108-193, 117 Stat. 2878 (2003) (codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. § 1589 et seq.).


In November 2004, Boehm pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371*fn2 and 1591(a)(1) and one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances to persons under twenty-one years old, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1). Boehm specifically admitted the truth of the allegations contained in the factual basis for his pleas, including the following:

Beginning in late 2001 and continuing until December 22, 2003, BOEHM conspired with BOLLING, WILLIAMS, and TYREE to recruit persons under 18 ("juveniles") to engage in sexual acts. The juve-niles were recruited by offering them cocaine, which was manufactured outside of Alaska and effected interstate commerce. The following juveniles were knowingly recruited by the defendants to engage in sex: S.P., E.A., J.M., K.W., L.H., C.R., L.B., and M.D. These juveniles had sex with one or more of the defendants, and received money and/or controlled substances from the defendants. The defendants knew the juveniles ages when they recruited the juveniles. To effect the purposes of the conspiracy, the defendant purchased cocaine and distributed cocaine to one or more juveniles, including S.P. in or about the fall of 2001.

(emphasis added).

Ditullio filed suit in federal district court in June 2009, and amended her complaint in October 2009. She alleged involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment, violations of the TVPA, sexual assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ditullio moved for summary judgment on Boehm's liability for compensatory and punitive ...

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