Harvey Weinstein will have to face allegations of sex trafficking filed by a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by the former movie mogul at the 2014 Cannes film festival.
In an opinion released Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet of the Southern District of New York denied Weinstein’s motion to dismiss the charges filed by Kadian Noble, an aspiring actress who claims Weinstein lured her into his hotel room under the guise of discussing her career before assaulting her.
Weinstein is represented by Kupferstein Manuel name attorney Phyllis Kupferstein and Morrison Cohen partner Mary Flynn. In a statement, Kupferstein downplayed the significance of the decision, while promising to appeal it.
“This decision is just the first round, and merely finds that plaintiff has alleged enough to proceed with her case. It does not mean that there is merit to the case,” Kupferstein said. “We believe these claims are not legally or factually supported, and ultimately will not be sustained.”
Noble filed her initial complaint against Weinstein following a wave of media coverage over numerous allegations by women in the entertainment business who claimed abuse at Weinstein’s hands. Noble, following a well-worn pattern, claims Weinstein approached her at an event, where he expressed professional interest in her career.
After later communicating with members of Weinstein’s production team, Noble said she met up with Weinstein while at the French film festival. Weinstein asked her to come to his room to review samplings of her work, Noble claimed. There, the producer soon began groping her, eventually pulling her into the bathroom where the forcible touching continued. Noble claims she tried to leave but was blocked from doing so by Weinstein, who then forced her to touch him.
She claimed Weinstein promised her “everything will be taken care of” during the act. However, Noble claims all attempts to follow up with Weinstein’s people led to dead ends.
In her amended complaint, bolstered by a report issued by the New York state Attorney General’s Office in February, Noble added two more claims to the original three, including allegations that Harvey Weinstein’s brother, Richard Weinstein, knew about and benefited from Harvey Weinstein’s attempts abroad to entice young female actors with the promise of roles.
In denying Harvey Weinstein’s motion to dismiss the charges of sex trafficking, Sweet noted that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 as it existed at the time of the alleged assault provides for an expansive definition of knowingly recruiting or enticing someone through force, fraud or coercion to perform a commercial sex act.
Weinstein argued that allowing the charges to go forward would unfairly expand the sex trafficking statute to anyone who engaged in sex where one side held a position of greater influence. Additionally, Weinstein argued the commercial aspect wasn’t satisfied because nothing of value was exchanged.
The judge acknowledged that while the allegations against Weinstein weren’t the “archetypal sex trafficking action,” they were plausibly established by Noble.
Sweet found that the civil actions allowed under the statute required “broad interpretation” because “broad, expansive language is employed.” Other courts, he noted, applied the statute to defendants who lured women, under false pretense and with lucrative promise, for sexual purpose. The “entice” qualifier in the statute was the operative word, the judge said, as Noble plausibly alleged Weinstein did just that by allegedly dangling lucrative film and modeling possibilities before Noble.
The statute also requires forceful or fraudulent means be used to entice, which Sweet said Weinstein plausibly affected through his personal promise, as well as the interview with his associates and his assurances during the sex act that “everything will be taken care of.” That all of Weinstein’s promises amounted to nothing after the alleged assault, “these allegations go beyond mere nonperformance; they evidence conscious behavior and fraudulent intent,” the judge wrote. Weinstein’s alleged use of force to restrain or trap Noble in his hotel room also satisfied the “means of force” prong, the judge added.
Despite Weinstein’s allegations that the commercial aspect of the allegations was nonexistent, Sweet found the details in the allegations enough to qualify. Noting that this represented the “principle argument” against the application of the sex trafficking statute, the judge acknowledged it was fair to say the allegations “present an extension of an element [of the statute] on which there is little to no prior authority.”
A commercial sex act is any such that in which anything of value is given or received by any person, the court noted. It must, at its core, have an economic component and be economic in nature. The expansive language, again, required a “liberal reading,” Sweet stated. The meeting of an aspiring actress with a major Hollywood producer carries value, in and of itself, on a life-changing level.
That Noble was given nothing of value “does not reflect modern reality,” the judge stated.
“Even if the prospect of the film role, of a modeling meeting, and of a continued professional relationship with [The Weinstein Co.] were not ‘things of value’ sufficient to satisfy commercial aspect of the sex act definition, Noble’s reasonable expectation of receiving those things in the future, based on Harvey’s repeated representations that she would, is sufficient,” Sweet wrote.
“We are pleased that a federal judge found that there were no factual allegations plausibly alleging that Mr. Weinstein knew of or participated in Harvey’s conduct. This finding is consistent with what we have said from the outset—that Mr. Weinstein had no knowledge of the illegal conduct of which his brother has been accused.”
Herman Law senior attorney Stuart Mermelstein represents Noble. In a statement, he called Sweet’s decision “a groundbreaking decision.”
“It construes the federal sex trafficking law broadly, according to its plain language, to hold accountable those individuals, like Harvey Weinstein, who use their power with means of fraud, force or coercion to obtain sex acts from unsuspecting victims,” Mermelstein said. “The allegations in the case demonstrate that Harvey is nothing more than a pimp in a tuxedo. This unprecedented decision allows the case to move forward to hold Harvey accountable for his actions.”
While the allegations against Harvey Weinstein will go forward, the two counts against his brother, Robert, were dismissed by Sweet, who found Noble failed to show in her complaint specific factual allegations that plausibly allege Robert Weinstein knew of, or participated in, his brother’s alleged sexual trafficking violations.
In a statement, Robert Weinstein’s attorney, Schulte Roth & Zabel partner Gary Stein, said he and his client were pleased with Sweet’s findings.
“This finding is consistent with what we have said from the outset—that Mr. [Robert] Weinstein had no knowledge of the illegal conduct of which his brother has been accused,” Stein said.