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Breest v. Haggis

Supreme Court of New York, First Department

December 26, 2019

Haleigh Breest, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Paul Haggis, Defendant-Appellant. Eleven Civil Rights Organizations, C.A. Goldberg PLLC, Professor Sally F. Goldfarb, Professor Julie Goldscheid, Professor Victoria Nourse and Legal Momentum, Amici Curiae.

          Harris, St. Laurent & Chaudhry LLP, New York (Priya Chaudhry and Joseph Gallagher of counsel), and Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, New York (Jeffrey Movit and Christine Lepera of counsel), for appellant.

          Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, New York (Zoe Salzman, Jonathan S. Abady and Ilann M. Maazel of counsel), for respondent.

          Kirkland & Ellis LLP, New York (Yosef J. Riemer, Ashley S. Gregory and Joseph M. Sanderson of counsel), for Her Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Sanctuary for Families, New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, National Organization for Women-New York City, Women's Justice NOW, FreeFrom, National Women's Law Center, Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Anti Violence Project, Black Women's Blueprint and C.A. Goldberg PLLC, amici curiae.

          Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, New York (Jennifer S. Recine, Daniel H. Lewkowicz and Natalie R. Birnbaum of counsel), for Professor Sally F. Goldfarb, Professor Julie Goldscheid, Professor Victoria Nourse and Legal Momentum, amici curiae.

          Peter Tom, J.P. Ellen Gesmer, Cynthia S. Kern, Peter H. Moulton, JJ.

          MOULTON, J.

         Defendant appeals from an order of the Supreme Court, New York County (Robert R. Reed, J.), entered August 15, 2018, which denied his motion to dismiss the complaint and to strike the Jane Doe allegations.

         The central question in this appeal is: what must a plaintiff allege in order to state a cause of action under New York City's Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Law (Administrative Code of City of NY § 10-1101 et seq.)?

         The New York City Council passed the Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Law (VGM) in 2000 in response to the United States Supreme Court's decision in United States v Morrison (529 U.S. 598');">529 U.S. 598');">529 U.S. 598');">529 U.S. 598 [2000]). The Morrison Court struck down the federal civil rights remedy for gender-motivated crimes contained in the Violence Against Women Act (42 USC § 13981) (VAWA), finding the remedy an unconstitutional exercise of Congressional power. VGM, as did its federal predecessor, provides a civil cause of action for victims of crimes of violence "committed because of gender or on the basis of gender, and due, at least in part, to an animus based on the victim's gender" (Administrative Code § 10-1103) and allows a victim of such a gender-based violent crime to collect money damages from the perpetrator.

         In the decision on appeal, Supreme Court denied defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's amended complaint. The court also denied defendant's alternative request to strike allegations concerning other alleged sexual assaults from the amended complaint pursuant to CPLR 3013 and 3024(b). Supreme Court held, inter alia, that plaintiff's amended complaint adequately stated a cause of action under VGM by alleging that defendant had raped and sexually assaulted her, and spoke to her during the course of the alleged rape in ways that displayed gender-based animus. Supreme Court also found that allegations that defendant had sexually assaulted other women were relevant, at the pleading stage, to establish the requisite gender-based animus. Supreme Court's decision was consistent with state and federal trial court precedents that require such allegations of additional facts tending to show gender-based animus even where the alleged offense is rape or sexual assault. We write to clarify that these additional allegations are not necessary to prove animus in alleged rape and sexual assault cases such as the one at bar.

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint

         Under CPLR 3211(a)(7), we evaluate the sufficiency of the amended complaint by assuming that the facts alleged therein are true and according plaintiff the benefit of every possible favorable inference (Wilson v Dantas, 29 N.Y.3d 1051, 1056-1057 [2017]).

         In January 2013, plaintiff was a 26-year - old publicist for a company that hosted film premieres in New York City. Defendant was, and remains, a prominent film and television producer, director and screenwriter. He was 59 at the time of the events alleged in the amended complaint. The two had a passing acquaintance from encountering each other at entertainment industry events.

         On January 31, 2013, the parties both attended a premiere party in New York City. At the end of the party defendant offered to give plaintiff a ride home. She accepted. Once they were in the car, defendant invited plaintiff to come to his apartment for a drink. Plaintiff suggested that they go to a public bar instead. When defendant insisted, plaintiff agreed to go to his apartment.

         The amended complaint alleges that once they were in defendant's apartment he immediately began to make unwanted sexual advances. Plaintiff told defendant to stop. Defendant said, "You're scared of me, aren't you?" and continued. As she resisted, defendant asked plaintiff her age. Plaintiff told him she was 26 and defendant replied, "Don't fucking act like an 18 year old." Plaintiff asked defendant, "Why are you doing this?" He replied, "What do you mean? You've been flirting with me for months." The amended complaint alleges that plaintiff's continued resistance, including telling defendant, "No," repeatedly, seemed to excite him. According to the amended complaint defendant eventually forced plaintiff to give him oral sex; then he digitally penetrated her and commented that she was "nice and tight"; then he raped her.

         In his answer and his motion to dismiss defendant vigorously contests plaintiff's version of their interactions and asserts that the parties' sexual relations were consensual.

         In late 2017 plaintiff's counsel contacted defendant and described plaintiff's allegations. The parties differ in their descriptions of what happened next. Plaintiff alleges that defendant's counsel subsequently asked plaintiff to come up with a settlement figure. Defendant contends that plaintiff's counsel wrote him directly, enclosing a draft complaint. He avers that he and his counsel vigorously denied the allegations in the draft complaint. According to defendant, plaintiff's counsel demanded $9 million to settle out of court.

         Defendant brought an action in New York County in December 2017 for intentional infliction of emotional distress arising from plaintiff's settlement demand and threat to sue.

         Plaintiff then filed her complaint, asserting a cause of action under VGM based on the January 31, 2013 incident. The two cases were assigned to a single justice. In January 2018, plaintiff filed an amended complaint with a slightly expanded account of the January 31 incident and allegations of three other sexual assaults allegedly perpetrated by defendant against other women in 1996, 2008 and 2015 (the Jane Doe allegations).

         The parties cross-moved to dismiss the respective complaints. Defendant also moved in the alternative to strike the Jane Doe allegations in plaintiff's amended complaint. Supreme Court dismissed defendant's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, and allowed plaintiff's claim under VGM to go forward. The court declined to strike the amended complaint's description of the Jane Doe allegations. In so holding, the court found that the amended complaint must allege facts that demonstrate some gender-based animus against women as a group, and not just against plaintiff. The court found indications of such animus in the allegations of statements made by defendant during the course of the incident, and in the fact that he allegedly committed sexual assaults on other women. The court also allowed plaintiff to further amend her complaint to add a claim under CPLR 213-c. Defendant does not appeal from that ruling, nor does he appeal the court's dismissal of his intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

         Discussion

         VGM provides a civil cause of action for "injur[y] by an individual who commit[ted] a crime of violence motivated by gender" (Administrative Code § 10-1104). The term "crime of violence" is defined as "an act or series of acts that would constitute a misdemeanor or felony against the person as defined in state or federal law... if the conduct presents a serious risk of physical injury to another, whether or not those acts actually resulted in criminal charges, prosecution or conviction" (Administrative Code § 10-1103). The term "crime of violence motivated by gender" is defined as a "crime of violence committed because of gender or on the basis ...


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