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Charleston v. State

United States District Court, D. Nevada

October 30, 2019

STATE OF NEVADA; STEVE SISOLAK, in his capacity as Governor of the State of Nevada; and the LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEVADA, Defendants.



         I. SUMMARY

         This case is brought by women who have been profoundly harmed by sexual violence as victims of sex trafficking in Nevada and other states. Sex trafficking of course is illegal, and Plaintiffs seek to halt sex trafficking by challenging Nevada's statutes allowing for certain counties to legalize prostitution. In gist, Plaintiffs' lawsuit is premised on the contention that the existence of legal prostitution in certain counties and localities in Nevada allows for sex trafficking to flourish and thus conflicts with federal laws. While the Court empathizes with Plaintiffs for their lived experiences, the Court cannot adjudicate Plaintiffs' claims because Plaintiffs fail to establish standing to confer jurisdiction upon this Court. Accordingly, the Court will grant Defendants' motions to dismiss (ECF Nos. 22, 31).


         The following facts are taken from the First Amended Complaint (“FAC”), [1] unless otherwise noted.

         Plaintiffs Rebekah Charleston, Angela Delgado-Williams, and Leah Albright-Byrd are all from states other than Nevada and currently reside in Texas. Charleston alleges that she was sexually exploited mostly in Nevada's legal brothels until she was trafficked into Las Vegas's illegal sex trade. Delgado-Williams makes allegations of being forced by a pimp into illegal prostitution in Texas, later trafficked into Las Vegas where she was enticed through fraud to engage in the illegal sex trade. She was also trafficked to perform sex acts for money in other large cities such as Los Angeles, California, Chicago, Illinois and Boston, Massachusetts before being trafficked back to Las Vegas. Albright-Byrd claims that she was trafficked from Sacramento, California to Reno, Nevada and was then trafficked by pimps from Reno to Las Vegas and in various cities across Nevada, and in the “Bay Area” of California.

         In the FAC, Plaintiffs plead federal constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of their civil rights (claims one and two) and a third claim for declaratory/injunctive relief. Plaintiffs named as defendants the State of Nevada (“State”), Steve Sisolak-in his official capacity as Governor of Nevada (“Governor”)-and the Legislature of the State of Nevada (“Legislature”) (collectively, “Defendants”). (ECF No. 12.)

         Plaintiffs rely on federal criminal statutes that generally prohibit individuals from engaging in travel or acts affecting interstate or foreign commerce and that relate to illegal prostitution or sex trafficking. These laws include the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, codified as 22 U.S.C. §§ 7101-7114 (2018), The Mann Act, codified as 18 U.S.C. § 2422 (2018), and 18 U.S.C. § 1591 (2018), which prohibits sex /// trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion. Plaintiffs assert that, per the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the United States Constitution, these statutes preempt Nevada statutes-NRS §§ 201.354(1) and 244.345(8)-that give less populated counties in Nevada the local option of allowing businesses to operate “a licensed house of prostitution” and similarly preempt the local ordinances that have exercised the option. In particular, Plaintiffs assert that:

Because the brothel industry in Nevada openly and notoriously persuades, induces, entices, and coerces individuals to travel in interstate commerce to commit acts of prostitution, [Nevada's statutes and local ordinances licensing and regulating legal brothels] cannot exist simultaneously with [the federal criminal laws] and thereby [are] preempted and in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

(ECF No. 12 at 38-39.)

         In their prayer for relief, Plaintiffs ask for declaratory judgment that Nevada's statutes and local ordinances licensing and regulating legal brothels are “unconstitutional [and] null and void as preempted by federal law, ” and a preliminary and permanent injunction “prohibiting the [State] and all of its political subdivisions from implementing, enforcing, or putting into force and effect” its statutes and local ordinances licensing and regulating legal brothels. (Id. at 39.) Plaintiffs also ask for an order requiring the State to allocate funds in an amount not less than $2, 000, 000 per year to the State Contingency Account for deposit to a special fund, designated as the “Nevada Sex Trade Exit Fund, ” to be used for specified reasons by persons who prove certain requirements. (Id.)

         Defendants have moved to dismiss the FAC under, inter alia, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), arguing that Plaintiffs lack standing to bring this action. (ECF Nos. 22, 31).[2] Because the Court will dismiss this case for lack of standing, the Court does not address Defendants' other asserted grounds for dismissal.

         III. 12(B)(1) LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows defendants to seek dismissal of a claim or action for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) is appropriate if the complaint, considered in its entirety, fails to allege facts on its face that are sufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction. In re Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) Antitrust Litigation, 546 F.3d 981, 984-85 (9th Cir. 2008). Although the defendant is the moving party in a motion to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff is the party invoking the court's jurisdiction. As a result, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that ...

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