A federal lawsuit alleging that the Quality Inn and Suites in southwest Little Rock permitted sex trafficking of an unidentified woman at the hotel in 2014 was dismissed Monday by a federal judge at the request of all parties.
The lawsuit, which was first filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court before being transferred to federal court, was the first in Arkansas seeking to hold a hospitality organization liable for human trafficking activities, although when filed last year, similar lawsuits had been filed elsewhere across the country.
Attorney Michael Huckabay Jr. of Little Rock, who represented defendants Shri Jinasha, doing business as the Quality Inn, and Rajni Patel and Lina Patel, officers of Shri Jinasha, filed the brief motion Monday to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled. U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson dismissed the case a short time later in a text entry.
Huckabay confirmed Monday that the case has been settled, but said he couldn’t reveal anything about the agreement other than that a protective order Wilson had granted to protect the woman’s identity remained in place.
Attorney Kathryn B. Knisley of Little Rock, who represented the woman who was identified only as Jane Doe, didn’t immediately return a call about the dismissal. The remaining defendant, Vijay Brahmbhatt, who the suit identified as the manager of the hotel when the woman was held there against her will, was represented by Little Rock attorneys David Donovan and Staci Dumas Carson.
Wilson’s order dismissing the case notes that the court retains jurisdiction of it to enforce the settlement agreement. A jury trial had been scheduled to begin Jan. 5.
The lawsuit alleged that Doe was held on the fourth floor of the hotel, located at 6100 Mitchell Drive, from May to July 2014, alongside other victims of sex trafficking, and that during that time, “the entire fourth floor was used for human trafficking.”
It also alleged that Brahmbhatt lived on the fourth floor and benefited financially from the arrangement because it ensured constant occupancy rates. It accused him of instructing his staff not to call the police or report suspicious activity on the fourth floor.
The hotel is located near Interstate 30 and Geyer Springs Road.
The lawsuit said that human traffickers trick or physically force victims into providing sex for profit, often under inhumane conditions.
It cited information from the Polaris Project that “it is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world,” with the most common venues for sex trafficking being hotels and motels.
The lawsuit alleged that Doe was beaten and choked several times a week by her trafficker, and that even when she “screamed for her life,” she received “no response or help from hotel management or staff.”
The suit was first filed last October in state court and then was transferred to federal court in late November.
Property records showed that at the time it was filed, the 100-room, four-story hotel had changed hands six times since 2002.
The Rainwater, Holt and Sexton law firm, which filed the lawsuit on Jane Doe’s behalf, has also filed a sex trafficking lawsuit against the Motel 6 at 400 W. 29th St. in North Little Rock.
In July, Donovan, the attorney for Stone Hospitality, the franchisee and operator of the motel, transferred the case from Pulaski County Circuit Court to federal court. But in late August, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller transferred it back to state court, after attorneys Lauren Manatt, Meredith Moore and Denise Hoggard argued that state court has jurisdiction of the case.
It alleges that an unidentified woman was forced to work as a prostitute at the motel between March and August 2019, and that motel employees ignored her cries for help.
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