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The 13th Amendment and a federal statute enacted after its passage in 1865 create an implied private right of action for involuntary servitude, a U.S. District judge for the Eastern District of New York has ruled. Refusing to dismiss several claims brought by a domestic employee alleging she was held prisoner by a Long Island, N.Y., couple and denied all contact with the outside world, Judge Nicholas Garaufis said that Congress intended to allow private parties to sue for being held in bondage when it criminalized slavery by enacting 18 U.S.C. � 1584. The ruling was a victory for Malaysian housekeeper Elma Manliguez, who charged that Martin and Somanti Joseph of Wexford, N.Y., and later of Hollis, N.Y., tricked her into returning with their family to the United States in 1998 and, with bars on the windows of their home, forced her to work endless days and subjected her to constant humiliation. The allegations, Garaufis said, “describe acts of barbarism and unrelenting mental brutality reminiscent of the gulag memorialized by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his novel entitled ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch.’” The Josephs allegedly paid Manliguez $1,050 for two years of work, all of which was wired directly to her mother in Malaysia. As a result, she had no money to spend for even basic necessities. She claimed she was subjected to verbal abuse, forced to eat leftover scraps, sometimes on the floor, and denied contact with her mother in Malaysia. It was only after the couple’s eldest son inadvertently left behind a set of house keys in October 2000 that Manliguez was able to escape and call acquaintances who spirited her to a series of safe houses, she claims. She filed suit in 2001 charging involuntary servitude, violations of the Alien Tort Claims Act, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion, failure to pay overtime, fraudulent inducement and negligent misrepresentation. In addition to arguing that the statute of limitations had expired on several claims and the pleadings lacked specificity, the Josephs, in their motion to dismiss, said there is no explicit right of action under � 1584, and a paucity of case law on the issue. But Garaufis said the lack of case law on whether a right of action exists for violating the 13th Amendment and � 1584 was “not surprising” because “instances of involuntary servitude are rarely found in modern American society.” RESERVE CLAUSE The one case cited by the judge was the challenge to baseball’s reserve clause brought by St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Curt Flood in 1970. A Southern District of New York judge in Flood v. Kuhn, 316 F.Supp. 271 (S.D.N.Y. 1970), held that a private right of action does exists under � 1584, but on alternate grounds. In an opinion affirmed on other grounds by the U.S. Supreme Court, the reserve clause was found not to violate the ban on involuntary servitude because baseball players had the option of retiring and pursuing other lines of work. But Garaufis noted that the “beneficiaries of Section 1584′s protection are victims” of the “constitutionally prohibited practice” of involuntary servitude. “Moreover, the statute is rooted in the 13th Amendment, which confers upon individuals the federal right to be protected from involuntary servitude,” he said. “Further, recognizing a private civil cause of action for involuntary servitude would be consistent with the underlying legislative purpose of § 1584 because it would provide the victim with a direct and efficient means of protecting his or her rights and deter potential offenders from engaging in behavior that the statute was designed to prohibit.” Having lost that battle, the Josephs claimed that the appropriate analogous statute of limitations governing Manliguez’s claims was New York’s one-year limit for false imprisonment. But Judge Garaufis said that classifying her claim as one for false imprisonment “would not address Plaintiff’s forced labor or its constitutional implications.” He said the most analogous limitations period was the three-year period under civil rights laws. The Josephs also lost their bid to have the emotional distress claim dismissed based on the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. Garaufis said an issue of material fact remained as to whether the Josephs “continued to threaten Plaintiff well into the one-year limitations period and whether the threats were a part of a continuous pattern of harassment and intimidation.” And the judge refused to dismiss Manliguez’s conversion claim that was brought for seizure of her passport by the couple. He said the statute of limitations did not begin to run until she realized that the defendants’ possession of the passport was hostile. RELIED ON PROMISE Finally, Garaufis declined to dismiss the claims for negligent misrepresentation and fraudulent inducement, finding, on the inducement claim, that Manliguez had alleged sufficient facts to show that she relied on the couple’s promise to fly her back to Malaysia after one year of work. Claudia Flores and Noelle Wright-Young, students at New York University School of Law in the Immigrant Rights Clinic, supervised by Adjunct Professors Sameer Ashar and Professor Michael Wishnie, represented Manliguez. Regina DiCocco, of Perry, Kearon & Campanelli in Westbury, N.Y., represented the Josephs.

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