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Roe v. Howard

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 25, 2019

SARAH ROE, Plaintiff - Appellee,
LINDA HOWARD, Defendant-Appellant, and ESTATE OF RUSSELL HOWARD, Defendant.

          Argued: October 30, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Liam O'Grady, District Judge. (1:16-cv-00562-LO-JFA)


          Richard Francis Rinaldo, JONES, GREGG, CREEHAN & GERACE LLP, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for Appellant.

          Melissa Lim Patterson, JONES DAY, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Timothy J. Battle, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Alison B. Marshall, Christian G. Vergonis, JONES DAY, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

          Before WILKINSON, KING, and QUATTLEBAUM, Circuit Judges.


         Defendant Linda Howard appeals from a judgment entered against her in the Eastern District of Virginia after a jury found her civilly liable to plaintiff Sarah Roe under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (the "TVPA").[1] Roe had sued Howard for her role in sexual abuse that Roe suffered at the hands of Russell Howard, Linda's husband, when Roe worked in 2007 as the Howards' housekeeper in housing provided by the Embassy of the United States in Yemen.[2] The jury found that Linda's conduct in Yemen contravened criminal provisions of the TVPA and thus awarded Roe $3 million in damages pursuant to the TVPA's civil remedy provision. See 18 U.S.C. § 1595. On appeal, Linda challenges the district court's denial of her post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law, wherein she sought relief on the ground that, in 2007, the TVPA's civil remedy provision did not apply extraterritorially. Linda also challenges the court's admission of testimonial evidence from another former housekeeper of Linda and Russell whom they had similarly abused. As explained below, we are satisfied to affirm the judgment.



         On July 31, 2017, following a four-day trial, a jury in the Eastern District of Virginia found Linda Howard civilly liable for contravening criminal provisions of the TVPA. More specifically, the jury found that Linda had engaged in forced labor in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1589, forced labor trafficking in violation of § 1590, commercial sex trafficking in violation of § 1591, and conspiring to engage in those offenses in violation of § 1594. See J.A. 115-17.[3]

         When we review an appeal following a jury verdict, we view the trial evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. See Randall v. Prince George's Cty., 302 F.3d 188, 195 n.8 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Lowery v. Cir. City Stores, Inc., 206 F.3d 431, 442-43 (4th Cir. 2000)). We are likewise obliged to accord the prevailing party the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence. See Lowery, 206 F.3d at 443. The facts recited herein are taken in that light and drawn from the record, which includes evidence presented at trial and the parties' joint submission of stipulated facts.


         Linda is an American citizen. She began working for the Department of State in 1991 as a Communications Officer in Paris, France. In Paris, Linda met and married Russell, an Australian citizen who then worked for the Australian Embassy in France. Over the next decade, Linda and Russell held similar postings around the world, usually arranging their assignments so that they could pursue their careers in the same country. In 2001, Russell retired from his position with the Australian government, and he thereafter followed Linda as she continued her career with the State Department.

         In 2005, the State Department assigned Linda to our Embassy in Sana'a, Yemen. Russell accompanied Linda to Sana'a and also found work at the Embassy. Among other jobs, Russell performed administrative work for the Embassy Commissary. In Sana'a, Linda and Russell lived in housing provided by the State Department, and they were protected by U.S. government security. Linda and Russell remained in Sana'a for approximately three years. Around December 2008, Linda and Russell moved to Japan, where Linda received her next State Department posting. By 2012, Linda and Russell had relocated to Melbourne, Australia, where Russell died of pancreatic cancer that September. Linda continues to reside in Melbourne.


         Sarah Roe first met the Howards in September 2005, soon after their arrival in Yemen. At that time, Roe was twenty years old. Born into an impoverished family in Ethiopia, Roe had moved to Yemen to seek work, and she initially secured various housekeeping and cleaning jobs. In September 2005, Roe was employed there as a waitress at a restaurant on U.S. Embassy grounds called Uncle Sam's. It was at Uncle Sam's that the Howards first encountered Roe and sought to befriend her.

         As one of his odd jobs around the U.S. Embassy, Russell worked in a shop next door to Uncle Sam's. He first introduced himself to Roe, and then introduced Roe to Linda. Both Howards paid special attention to Roe: they complimented her appearance, initiated friendly conversations, and encouraged her to work for them as their live-in housekeeper. At first Roe declined the job offer, and Russell asked her to help "find a beautiful woman like [her]self to work in [the Howards'] home." See J.A. 232. Linda would stop by Uncle Sam's three or four times a week, where she would "greet" and "hug" Roe. Id. at 231. Linda even gave Roe her personal phone number. Id. at 234.

         Around 2006, Roe returned to Ethiopia from Yemen for several months to care for her mother. As a result, she lost her job at Uncle Sam's. When Roe returned to Sana'a, a young Ethiopian woman named Sabha was then employed as the Howards' live-in housekeeper, but Linda helped Roe obtain a data-entry job at the U.S. Embassy. Linda gave Roe an application for the data-entry position and taught her how to use a basic data-entry program on Linda's home computer. After Roe got the job, Linda continued to befriend her, meeting Roe to talk about her hair stylist and other non-work matters. Linda presented herself to Roe "as a friend, someone very easy to talk to, someone with a very good heart." See J.A. 239. Linda also promised to help Roe find another job after the data-entry position ended. Roe believed Linda offered such help because Linda "really liked" her. Id. at 241.

         Some months later, in the spring of 2007, the Howards' then live-in housekeeper (another young Ethiopian woman named Brhan) left them. At the time, Roe was looking for a new job and the Howards renewed their offer to Roe to fill the housekeeping position. Roe was uncertain about accepting the Howards' offer. She made more money when she had jobs that allowed her to accept tips, like waitressing. Roe also had her own apartment and did not want to move in with the Howards, which was a requirement of the position. But the Howards offered to help Roe get medical treatment for an eye ailment, renew her work visa, and aid her family in Ethiopia. Linda also "knew that [Roe] had a desire to improve [her] language skills," and promised that Russell could help her with her English. See J.A. 247. As part of their discussions about the live-in position, Linda explained to Roe "that Russell is usually at home, he needs a friend." Id. Linda told Roe that "the main part of this job is to make Russell happy." Id. at 250. Roe understood this to mean that "doing my job, cleaning, doing everything else was what was going to make him happy." Id. Roe accepted the position and agreed to move in with the Howards. She began working for the Howards in June 2007.

         Once Roe moved into the Howards' apartment, she discovered that, although she had her own room and bathroom, the door to her room could not be locked without a key. The Howards told Roe they did not have the key. The Howards then presented Roe with a uniform consisting of a "very short" skirt and a blouse that "looked like something you would wear . . . when you go out." See J.A. 253. Linda had made the outfit herself.

         When Roe refused to wear the uniform, Russell took Roe to the mall to go shopping. At the mall, he purchased a "very revealing" "one-piece" that "open[ed] in the front," and "underwear . . . with one tiny string" and "many holes." See J.A. 253. Back at the apartment, Russell asked Roe to put on the new purchases "and show him what it looks like." Id. at 254. Roe refused again and went to the kitchen to prepare Russell's lunch. She then retired to her room. Suddenly, Russell entered the room, naked. Roe tried to escape but Russell cornered her, pinned her down on the bed, and raped her. Russell continually raped and sexually assaulted Roe for the duration of her time with the Howards. He repeatedly threatened Roe to maintain her silence: he verbally abused her, he warned Roe that he could have her thrown in jail, he threatened to tell her religiously conservative family about the assaults, and he retained possession of her passport.

         As the district court succinctly put it in its post-trial opinion, "Linda Howard was aware of these assaults." See J.A. 145-46. Linda often watched as Russell touched Roe's rear end and breasts. Roe overheard Russell talking to Linda on the phone about the assaults, including complaining that Roe "wasn't like Brhan." Id. at 258, 334. Roe knew it was Linda on the other end of the line based on the nature and content of those conversations. On one occasion, Russell related events to Linda over the phone as he took Roe to a hospital to have an intrauterine contraceptive device implanted. Russell also told Roe that he talked to Linda about the rapes.

         Eventually, Roe's continued resistance to Russell's repeated assaults and open, abject misery so enraged Russell that he fired her in December 2007. Linda then helped Roe obtain another restaurant job near the Howards' apartment and wrote a letter of recommendation for her. Even then, Russell would often stop by the restaurant to threaten Roe to maintain her silence about the rapes he had perpetrated.


         Congress enacted the TVPA in the year 2000 "to combat trafficking in persons, a contemporary manifestation of slavery whose victims are predominantly women and children, to ensure just and effective punishment of traffickers, and to protect their victims." TVPA, Pub. L. No. 106-386, § 102(a), 114 Stat. 1464, 1466 (codified at 22 U.S.C. § 7101(a)). The congressional findings that accompanied the TVPA in its original form repeatedly emphasized the transnational nature of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, and the enforcement challenges posed by the international scope of that criminal activity. See id., § 102(b), 114 Stat. at 1466-69.

         By way of the TVPA, Congress created several new federal criminal offenses intended to more comprehensively and effectively combat human trafficking. Among other provisions, the TVPA criminalized: "Forced labor," "[t]rafficking with respect to peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor," and "[s]ex trafficking of children or by force, fraud or coercion." See TVPA, § 112(a)(2), 114 Stat. at 1486-88. Those provisions are respectively codified at 18 U.S.C. §§ 1589, 1590, and 1591, all within chapter 77 of Title 18.

         In 2003, Congress reauthorized and amended the TVPA. See Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, Pub. L. No. 108-193, 117 Stat. 2875 (the "2003 TVPRA"). In the findings accompanying the 2003 TVPRA, Congress stressed the challenges that remained "in responding to the needs of victims of trafficking in the United States and abroad." See id., § 2(2), 117 Stat. at 2875. As part of the 2003 TVPRA amendments, Congress added a civil remedy provision to chapter 77. See 2003 TVPRA, § 4(a)(4)(A), 117 Stat. at 2878. That civil remedy provision is codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1595(a), which provides:

(a) An individual who is a victim of a violation of [chapter 77] may bring a civil action against the perpetrator . . . in an appropriate district court of the United ...

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