By Dr. Robert J. Romano, St. John’s University, Senior Writer
On or about March 4, 2020, due to some alleged criminal activity that occurred in the fall of 2012, nine unidentified former student-athletes from Bellarmine University and the Indiana University of Pennsylvania filed a federal civil lawsuit against Limestone College, its employee Collins Murphy, MindGeek Holding SARL a/k/a MindGeek USA Inc. d/b/a Pornhub.com, Hammy Media Ltd d/b/a xHamster.com and MG Holdings USA Corp in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Spartanburg Division. As outlined in their eight-count complaint, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants, in various degrees, engaged in conduct that amounted to a violation of both the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) – 18 U.S.C. Sections 1591-1595 and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) – 18 U.S.C. Sections 1962(c) and 1964(c), while at the same time invading their right to privacy, intentionally inflicting emotional distress, engaging in various negligent acts with regards to the hiring, supervising, and monitoring of their employees, and civil conspiracy.
The gravamen of the plaintiffs’ causes of action centers around one of Limestone College’s former employee, Collins Murphy, who, in his capacity as the intramural and summer conference director for the school, surreptitiously placed a number of video cameras throughout the visiting team’s locker room. After placing such cameras, on or about October 5, 2012, Bellarmine University’s and Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s women’s field hockey team, who both traveled to Limestone College to play an ‘away game,’ were secretly recorded in various stages of undress and while taking showers by the numerous cameras that Collins Murphy hid throughout the locker room. In addition, at some point during 2019, those recordings were uploaded and disseminated to countless pornographic websites.
One of the additional defendants, MG Freesites contends, however, that the U.S. District Court must stay the plaintiffs’ civil matter because a criminal investigation into the alleged illegal video recordings is currently ongoing and arises out of the same occurrence in which the plaintiffs are the alleged victims. MG Freesites’ position is that the language of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) clearly states that “any individual who is a victim of [sex trafficking] may bring a civil action against the perpetrator,” but that said civil action “shall be stayed during the pendency of any criminal action arising out of the same occurrence in which the claimant is the victim.” TVPRA defines “criminal action” as including “investigation and prosecution,” which are considered “pending until final adjudication in the trial court.”
In most situations, a mandatory stay would be correct. However, courts have also found the statute does not apply in every instance and on various occasions have declined to impose a stay when there is insufficient evidence that a) an active investigation and prosecution exist, b) that the criminal action arises out of the same occurrence as the civil action, and c) that the plaintiffs in the civil action are the victims of the criminal action.
The U.S. District Court after hearing arguments, however, found that MG Freesites failed to provide sufficient evidence that a mandatory stay should be applied in this matter finding insufficient evidence of a pending criminal action arising out of the same occurrence in which plaintiffs were the victims. The Court did note, however, that while it appears that the Gaffney PoliceDepartment opened an investigation into the alleged incident in October of 2019, it is unclear whether the investigation referenced in the police reports is still ongoing and is based on the same occurrences alleged in the civil complaints.
Therefore, U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Spartanburg Division, held that it would be “illogical and contrary to the purpose of the TVPRA, that a stay may be mandatorily imposed by force of a civil defendant who can only surmise as to whether a criminal investigation may be ongoing. If such evidence were able to subject a civil case to an automatic stay, victims bringing actions under the TVPRA could often be denied justice, having their trial delayed indefinitely by a civil defendant who merely theorizes that an investigation might possibly be ongoing. Such an application of the statute would be nonsensical and contrary to the statute’s purpose.”
 Case No.: 3:20-av-99999.
 Case No.: 3:20-av-99999 at 8 through 13.
 At Limestone College, visiting women’s sports teams typically used the college’s men’s locker room for dressing and showering.
 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40631 at 3.
 18 U.S.C. § 1595(a).
 Id at § 1595(b)(1).
 Id. § 1595(b)(2).
 Sharma v. Balwinder, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 187541, 2021 WL 4865281, at 2 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 29, 2021)
 Tianming Wang v. Gold Mantis Constr. Decoration (CNMI), LLC, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 188676, 2020 WL 5983939, at 2-5 (D. N. Mar. I. Oct. 9, 2020).
 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40631 at 5
 Kolbek v. Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 125968, 2011 WL 5188424, at 2 (W.D. Ark. Oct. 11, 2011).