United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS AND STAY
L. ROBART, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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).) 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,  the court grants in part and denies in
part the motion for the reasons set forth below.
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).) 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.)
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.)
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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).)
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.
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).
Motion to ...