United States District Court, D. Maryland
W. TITUS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
1, 2018, Plaintiff, Shoshanti Barjo (“Barjo”),
filed this action against Defendants, Vivian Cherian and
Kenneth Cherian (“Mr. and Mrs. Cherian” or
“the Cherians”), and Aberdeen House, Inc. ECF No.
1. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint in its
entirety on August 1, 2018, and Barjo filed an Opposition on
August 29, 2018. ECF Nos. 7, 17. For the reasons stated
below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be denied.
born and raised in rural poverty in India, began part-time
work as a domestic worker in India for the Cherians in 1994
at the age of 18. Compl. ¶¶ 11, 14. Up to this
point, Barjo had received almost no education and had limited
English language skills. Id. ¶¶ 13, 21. In
1995, Barjo moved into the Cherians' home to begin
working full-time, sharing work with the Cherians' other
domestic workers. Id. ¶ 16. Two years later,
Mrs. Cherian was offered a job in Washington, D.C.
Id. ¶ 17. After the Cherians promised to pay
Barjo $210 per week for an average of forty hours of work per
week, and no more than 60 hours per week under any
circumstance, Barjo agreed to move with the Cherians to
Washington, D.C. Id. ¶¶ 17-20. Barjo
signed an employment contract. Id. ¶ 20.
However, it was written in English so she relied on Mrs.
Cherian's representation of the terms when signing it
with her fingerprint. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Mrs.
Cherian then arranged for Barjo to get an Indian passport and
a G-5 Visa from the U.S. Department of State, and Barjo moved
to the United States with the Cherians in 1997. Id.
her arrival in the United States until 2002, Barjo worked in
the Cherians' home where she was treated much differently
than she was as a domestic worker for them in India.
Id. ¶¶ 28, 50. Barjo was forced to work
between 100 and 110 hours per week. Id. ¶ 29.
She was not given a bed or blanket, was forced to sleep on
the floor, then later on a sofa, and was denied heating for
where she slept. Id. ¶ 34. Barjo was not
allowed access to a coat to walk the kids to school,
subsequently getting sick because of that; her food and drink
intake were closely monitored, limited, and ridiculed; and
when she requested improved living conditions, she was told,
“You used to sleep on the floor in India, why do you
need anything more?” Id. ¶¶ 35-36.
Mrs. Cherian screamed at Barjo daily, making her feel like a
slave and reducing her to tears for transgressions such as
waking up thirty minutes late. Id. ¶ 33.
Cherians did not pay Barjo for her work, lying to her about a
bank account opened in her name where her pay would be
deposited. Id. ¶ 38. When Barjo asked for her
money so she could buy winter clothes, Mrs. Cherian refused
and became enraged, instilling fear in Barjo that prevented
her from asking for pay again. Id. ¶¶
39-41. Occasionally, Barjo's family in India received
payments from the Cherians, but these payments did not equal
what Barjo was due in wages under the terms of the contract.
Id. ¶ 42.
was told to be “good” because the Cherians
brought her to the United States and secured her immigration
documentation, and she was threatened with possible
deportation if she were “bad.” Id.
¶ 31. Upon arriving in the United States, the Cherians
retained possession of Barjo's passport for many years.
Id. ¶ 5. Barjo first believed this to be
custom, but when she later asked for the passport the
Cherians refused to give it to her and instead kept it in a
locked briefcase, which Barjo perceived as a tactic to
prevent her from leaving. Id. ¶¶ 25,
46-48, 56. The Cherians then let Barjo's visa lapse,
thereby subjecting her to possible deportation. Id.
¶ 47. The Cherians reminded Barjo that she could be
deported, which then made her afraid to ask for her passport
or salary and subjected her to feeling trapped at the
Cherians with no other recourse. Id. ¶¶
Cherians kept Barjo isolated from others, including from her
own family in India with whom she was only allowed to speak
rarely and always with Mrs. Cherian listening in on the
conversation. Id. ¶¶ 43-45. When she was
allowed to interact with others, it was always with those who
were related or indebted to the Cherians, so Barjo could
never seek help from anyone to help her with her documents.
Id. ¶ 45. Then, in 2002, Mr. Cherian opened a
retirement home, Aberdeen House, and Barjo was moved from the
Cherian's home to Aberdeen House, where she worked until
2004. Id. ¶¶ 49-50.
work at Aberdeen House required similar hours and was
physically demanding. Id. ¶¶ 50-51. Barjo
had to shovel snow, mow lawns, and pick up and move
residents. Id. ¶ 51. The humiliation and
degradation continued, this time at the hands of Mr.
Cherian's mother who supervised Barjo at the facility.
Id. ¶ 52-54. Barjo continued to demand pay and
Mr. Cherian continued to refuse. Id. ¶ 55.
After two years of physically demanding work, Barjo developed
severe leg pain-of which she still suffers today-so the
Cherians moved her back to their home where she resumed
domestic work until 2006. Id. ¶¶ 57-59. In
2007, after deeming her well enough to work, the Cherians
forced Barjo to return to work at the Aberdeen House.
Id. ¶ 60. Eventually Barjo managed to secure
her passport from the Cherians and left the control of
Aberdeen House and the Cherians on February 12, 2012.
Id. ¶ 63.
filed a Complaint [ECF No. 1] against the Cherians and
Aberdeen House on June 1, 2018, alleging six violations of
the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”),
18 U.S.C. § 1595: 1) forced labor violation of the TVPA,
against the Cherians; 2) trafficking with respect to peonage,
slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor in violation
of the TVPA, against the Cherians; 3) forced labor violation
of the TVPA, against Aberdeen House; 4) trafficking with
respect to peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced
labor in violation of the TVPA, against Aberdeen House; 5)
unlawful conduct with respect to documents in violation of
the TVPA, against the Cherians; and 6) conspiracy to violate
the TVPA, against the Cherians and Aberdeen House. Defendants
then filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint in its entirety
on August 1, 2018. ECF No. 7. Defendants attached three
affidavits and two exhibits to their Motion, basing their
arguments largely on their view of the facts as presented
with their Motion. ECF Nos. 7-1, 7-2, 7-3, 7-4, 18-1. Barjo
filed her Opposition on August 29, 2018. ECF No. 17.
Standard of Review
motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) serves “to test the sufficiency of a
complaint.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178
F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). In order to be sufficient to
survive dismissal, a complaint must allege “enough
facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when
the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
motion to dismiss, courts must consider all
“well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true,
” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268
(1994), and “must construe factual allegations in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff.” See
Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 176 F.3d
776, 783 (4th Cir. 1999). However, courts “are not
bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a
factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478
U.S. 265, 286 (1986). “While a complaint attacked by a
Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed
factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide
the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to
relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action