Ditullio v. Boehm

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Law
  • Date Filed: 11-07-2011
  • Case #: 10-36012
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge B. Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judge Kleinfeld; Circuit Judge Callahan dissenting
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the civil remedy provision of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1595, a victim may recover punitive damages since the provision “creates a cause of action that sounds in tort and punitive damages are available in tort actions under common law.” However, § 1595 does not apply retroactively to a perpetrator's conduct that occurs before § 1595's effective date.

Josef Boehm pled guilty to conspiracy to engage in human trafficking, and admitted to conspiring to provide controlled substances to minors to recruit them for sexual acts. Miranda Ditullio, one of Boehm’s victims, sued Boehm for compensatory and punitive damages under the civil remedy provision § 1595 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”) based on Boehm’s TVPA violations spanning from late 2001 to December 22, 2003. Ditullio appealed the district court’s conclusion after an interlocutory appeal that § 1595 neither permits recovery of punitive damages nor applies retroactively. Under § 1595, a victim “may recover damages and reasonable attorneys fees” in a civil suit against the perpetrator. Because the term “damages” in § 1595 is ambiguous, the Ninth Circuit turned to common law principles to determine the scope of § 1595’s remedies. In following the “general rule” that the court should award “any appropriate relief in a cognizable cause of action brought pursuant to a federal statute,” the Court concluded that punitive damages are permissible under § 1595 of the TVPA since it creates “a cause of action for tortious conduct that is ordinarily intentional and outrageous.” Further, the Court reasoned that a punitive damages award is consistent with the TVPA’s aims of increasing protection for trafficking victims and punishing traffickers. Additionally, the Court held that § 1595 does not apply retroactively, because to hold otherwise would attach “new legal consequences to events completed prior to its enactment.” In so doing, the Court rejected Ditullio’s argument that state law subjected Boehm to liability before § 1595’s effective date (December 19, 2003), since § 1595 creates liability for conduct not covered by the state law. REVERSED in part, AFFIRMED in part.

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