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Emmanuel v. King County

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

July 6, 2018

KEITH EMMANUEL, et al., Plaintiffs,
KING COUNTY, et al., Defendants.




         Before the court is Defendants King County; King County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Satterberg; and former King County Sheriff John Urquhart's (collectively, “King County Defendants”) motion to dismiss and stay. (MTD (Dkt. # 17).) Defendants City of Bellevue and Bellevue Police Chief Steven Mylett (collectively, “Bellevue Defendants”) filed a response in support of King County Defendants' motion (Bellevue Resp. (Dkt. # 20)), and Plaintiffs Keith Emmanuel, Richard Homchick, and Charles Peters (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed a response in opposition to the motion (Pl. Resp. (Dkt. # 22).)[1] The court has considered the motion, the submissions in support of and in opposition to the motion, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [2] the court grants in part and denies in part the motion for the reasons set forth below.


         This case arises from Plaintiffs' participation in “The League, ” an exclusive group of men who patronized sex workers. (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 32; MTD at 3 (citing Hackett Decl. (Dkt. # 18) ¶¶ 8-13 (attaching probable cause certifications and findings of probable cause).)[3] The League was affiliated with an online message board on which members shared their experiences with a network of sex workers. (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 32; MTD at 4 (citing Hackett Decl. ¶¶ 8-13.) On or about January 5, 2016, officers from the King County Sheriff's Office and Bellevue police arrested ten men after “a months-long undercover operation dubbed ‘Operation No. Impunity.'” (Am. Compl. ¶ 30.) Plaintiffs were among those men arrested, and they were charged with promoting prostitution in the second degree under RCW 9A.88.080(1)(b). (Id. ¶¶ 1, 30-31.) Mr. Homchick pleaded guilty on February 12, 2016. (Hackett Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. 5 (“Plea”).) The cases against Mr. Emmanuel and Mr. Peters are ongoing. (See, e.g., id. ¶ 4, Ex. 3; id. ¶ 5, Ex. 4; id. ¶ 18, Ex. 17.)

         Two days after the arrests, Defendants “convened a joint press conference to announce the arrests.” (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiffs allege that beginning with the press conference, Defendants launched “a coordinated campaign to defame and publicly humiliate Plaintiffs” by making “false and misleading statements that directly, or by implication, accused Plaintiffs of various criminal activity” with which they had not been charged- “human trafficking, sex slavery, criminal sexual abuse, kidnapping, and rape.” (See Id. ¶¶ 34-35; see also Id. ¶¶ 1 (alleging that Defendants “deliberately conflated th[e] prostitution charge with human trafficking and sex slavery as part of a concerted plan to secure private funding and manipulate media coverage”), 16 (alleging that Defendants have waged a “false and malicious public campaign against Plaintiffs, wrongly imputing that Plaintiffs were engaged in human trafficking, sex slavery, and other crimes”).) Plaintiffs specifically point to a number of statements regarding human trafficking that Sheriff Urquhart, Prosecuting Attorney Satterberg, and Chief Mylett made at the press conference. (See Id. ¶¶ 36-40, 43-45, 49-53.)

         Plaintiffs further allege that Defendants continued the human trafficking narrative in a press release issued on January 7, 2016, (see Id. ¶¶ 56-60) and at a domestic violence symposium at Seattle University School of Law on September 7, 2017, when Detective Luke Hillman of the King County Sheriff's Office made references to human traffickers and showed Plaintiffs' photos (id. ¶¶ 82-86). Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' statements regarding human trafficking were then reported by local and national media outlets and “thus re-published to millions of people across the globe.” (See Id. ¶ 64; see also Id. ¶¶ 65, 67.) Plaintiffs further contend that the allegedly false statements extended to a probable cause affidavit King County Sheriff's Office Detective Mike Garske filed on September 9, 2016, in which Detective Garske labeled Mr. Peters a “convicted human trafficker” (id. ¶ 75), and when the Prosecutor's Office threatened to add sexual motivation enhancements to Plaintiffs' charges (id. ¶ 79). Plaintiffs specifically contend that the “enhancement threat . . . was coercive and did, in fact, coerce a guilty plea” from Mr. Homchick. (Id. ¶ 81; see also Plea.) Plaintiffs further allege that Defendants did not correct the false narratives they advanced. (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 70-73.)

         Plaintiffs allege that those narratives are related to private money that the King County Prosecutor's Office (“Prosecutor's Office”) began receiving in 2014. Due to budget shortfalls, the Prosecutor's Office in 2014 sought private money to fund its operations. (See Id. ¶ 17.) That search led the Prosecutor's Office to Demand Abolition, a group that seeks to end “the illegal commercial sex industry in the U.S. . . . by combating the demand for purchased sex.'” (Id. ¶ 19 (ellipsis in original).) In January 2014, the Prosecutor's Office-led by Senior Deputy Prosecutor Val Richey-applied for a grant from Demand Abolition. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) In its application, the Prosecutor's Office identified several strategies for reducing the demand for prostitution and committed to reducing demand by 20 percent in 24 months and increasing arrests of buyers by 50 percent. (Id. ¶ 21.) In April 2014, Demand Abolition awarded the Prosecutor's Office $50, 000.00, and Plaintiffs believe Demand Abolition has renewed the grant contract every year since 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 26.) The contract contains a claw-back provision that allows Demand Abolition to receive a total or partial refund “if, in [Demand Abolition's] sole discretion, such action is necessary.” (Id. ¶ 25.)

         In addition to grant money, Plaintiffs contend that Demand Abolition has provided the Prosecutor's Office access to media consultants to help increase public awareness of King County Defendants' efforts to reduce the demand for prostitution. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) Plaintiffs allege that the Prosecutor's Office, “with the other [D]efendants marching lock-step, routinely adopted the language provided by th[o]se media consultants, knowing and/or recklessly disregarding that the resulting message would be highly misleading, and would improperly impute crimes” to Plaintiffs. (Id. ¶ 29.)

         Plaintiffs assert that “King County and its agents have abused normal processes and placed personal and private third-party interests over Plaintiffs' rights” by “soliciting receiving, and maintaining funds” from Demand Abolition. (Id. ¶ 90.) Plaintiffs contend that they do not seek to litigate their criminal charges in this court but want to stop Defendants from “vilify[ing] and humiliat[ing] Plaintiffs” and characterizing their arrests for promoting prostitution as arrests for human trafficking and sex slavery. (Id. ¶ 3.)

         Based on the foregoing allegations, Plaintiffs bring the following claims: (1) abuse of process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (id. ¶¶ 91-97); (2) violation of due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (id. ¶¶ 98-105); (3) defamation (id. ¶¶ 106-115); (4) false light/invasion of privacy (id. ¶¶ 116-25); (5) aiding and abetting defamation (id. ¶¶ 126-30); (6) aiding and abetting false light/invasion of privacy (id. ¶¶ 131-32); (7) intentional infliction of emotional distress (id. ¶¶ 135-39); and (8) negligent infliction of emotional distress (id. ¶¶ 140-44). They seek preliminary and permanent injunctive relief “prohibiting Defendants . . . from making false or misleading statements about Plaintiffs”; compensatory, special, and punitive damages; and attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. at 26 (prayer for relief).)

         Defendants move to (1) dismiss Mr. Homchick's federal constitutional claims as barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), and (2) stay Mr. Emmanuel's and Mr. Peters's claims pursuant to Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), while their criminal cases proceed in state court. (See MTD at 9, 11.) Defendants do not challenge Plaintiffs' state law claims. (See Id. at 2 (stating that “the federal damages lawsuit filed by [Mr.] Emmanuel and [Mr.] Peters should be stayed, while [Mr.] Homchick's federal claims should be dismissed).) The court now addresses Defendants' motion.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Although a plaintiff does not have to make “detailed factual allegations, ” a complaint must include “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In other words, a complaint must include sufficient factual allegations to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court can dismiss a complaint based on “the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Livid Holdings Ltd. v. Salomon Smith Barney, Inc., 416 F.3d 940, 946 (9th Cir. 2005), and accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, Wyler Summit P'ship v. Turner Broad. Sys., Inc., 135 F.3d 658, 661 (9th Cir. 1998).

         B. Motion to ...

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