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Natalya Shuvalova and Elizabeth Shuvalova v. Joseph Richard Cunningham

December 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Seeborg United States District Judge

*E-Filed 12/22/2010*

United States District Court For the Northern District of California



This case involves the unusual scenario of one spouse bringing claims against the other for alleged violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). Natalya Shuvalova (Natalya) and her daughter Elizabeth Shuvalova (Liza) (collectively "plaintiffs") claim 23 that Joseph Cunningham (Joe) and his adult son Daniel Cunningham (Dan) (collectively "defendants") fraudulently lured them from Russia to the United States, induced Natalya to marry Joe, and then forced plaintiffs into involuntary servitude at Joe's rural property in Clearlake, California. For seven months, plaintiffs claim they were forced by defendants' alleged verbal and 27 physical threats to perform heavy, outdoor labor on the property. Based on these contentions, 28 plaintiffs' complaint raises eighteen claims for violations of the TVPRA, federal and state labor law, and state contract and tort law. Defendants move to dismiss the entire complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The Court heard oral argument on the motion on October 14, 2010. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


Accepting the facts as presented in the complaint for purposes of this motion, Natalya and Joe met through a computer dating service in October 2005. At the time, Natalya lived in Russia and Joe lived then and now in Clearlake, California. They began a two-year relationship involving frequent emails and phone calls, as well as two vacations together each lasting two weeks. In daughter Liza. Natalya and Liza arrived in the United States in February 2008 and began living with Joe at the Clearlake property. Joe's thirty-five-year-old son, Dan, also lived at the house on the weekends. Natalya and Joe married on May 3, 2008.

Liza within weeks of their arrival. Joe threatened Natalya with serious physical harm including death. He asked Liza to help him "[get] rid of her mother." Joe threw furniture, plates, and cups at plaintiffs. He kept guns and large knives around the house, often grabbed them during his bouts of rage, and threatened plaintiffs with physical violence if they disobeyed him or told anyone about their situation. He enforced his threats by grabbing and violently shaking Natalya.

Plaintiffs were forced by Joe, with Dan's help, to engage in heavy, manual labor on the rural property. Natalya was locked out of the house and made "to move around earth, large rocks and 21 stones, [and] remove brush and debris." Natalya was forced to labor for eight to ten hours a day or more, usually seven days per week. She was not allowed to rest or drink water. Joe also forced Joe isolated plaintiffs from outside contact. He prevented them from leaving the house for most of the seven months they lived with him. Usually Natalya could only leave with Joe to attend October 2005,*fn1 Joe proposed to Natalya and promised to provide a loving home to her and her

According to the complaint, Joe began physically and verbally threatening both Natalya and Liza to engage in the same work for hours each day.

church and Liza could not leave the house at all until July 2008. Liza was not allowed to attend 2 school until mid-September 2008. Additionally, defendants prevented plaintiffs from having

Joe forced Liza to massage his naked body several times a week. He routinely talked to Liza explicitly about sex, even though she told him it made her uncomfortable. Joe also prevented Liza 6 from receiving treatment for an ear infection until it developed into an emergency. Instead, he 7 physically restrained her in order to force a homemade treatment into her ear. Dan also forced Liza 8 to engage in unwanted physical contact and made sexual references about her body. He routinely 9 grabbed, forcibly kissed, and fondled her. He would come into Liza's bedroom and remain without her consent while she was dressing and would enter the bathroom while she was showering. In September 2007, after seven months, plaintiffs were able to escape Joe's property and move to a 12 shelter in Sonoma County.

(1) the TVPRA, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589, 1595; (2) the TVPRA, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1590, 1595; (3) invasion of 15 privacy; (4) false imprisonment; (5) fraud; (6) assault and battery; (7) the Fair Labor Standards Act 16 Labor Code §§ 551, 552 and California Code of Regulations § 11150; (11) California Labor Code § 18 970; (12) intentional fraud; (13) negligent misrepresentation; (14) conspiracy; (15) breach of oral 19 contract; (16) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (17) intentional infliction of 20 emotional distress; and (18) negligent infliction of emotional distress. Defendants move to dismiss 21 all eighteen claims*fn2 for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 22 Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must present "a short and plain 24 statement of the claim" demonstrating that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). 25 If the complaint does not meet this standard, the defendant may move to dismiss for failure to state a 26 claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Dismissal is appropriate if the claimant either does not raise a cognizable legal theory or fails to allege sufficient facts to support a 2 cognizable claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988). While a legally sufficient complaint does not require "detailed factual 4 allegations," it must contain more than "unadorned" assertions of harm or bare legal conclusions 5 without factual support. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. 6 v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Thus, a complaint must state a "plausible claim for relief" 7 to survive a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to 8 dismiss, all material allegations in the complaint are accepted as true and construed in the light most 9 favorable to the non-moving party. Pareto v. FDIC, 139 F.3d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1998).

Internet or phone access.

Based on defendants' alleged conduct, plaintiffs bring eighteen claims for damages under: (FLSA); (8) California Labor Code § 1197; (9) California Labor Code §§ 203, 204; (10) California 17


Furthermore, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b) requires that "[in] allegations of fraud or mistake, a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake." To 12 satisfy the rule, a plaintiff must plead the "who, what, where, when, and how" of the claimed 13 misconduct. Cooper v. Pickett, 137 F.3d 616, 627 (9th Cir. 1997). Defendants must be provided 14 notice of "particular misconduct," such that they may "defend against the charge" beyond a general 15 denial of wrongdoing. Vess v. Ciba-Geigy Corp. U.S.A., 317 F.3d 1097, 1106 (9th Cir. 2003) 16


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