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Stephens v. Clash

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 18, 2013

KEVIN CLASH, Defendant.


CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Sheldon Stephens ("Stephens") filed the above-captioned action pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2255, alleging violations of the Child Abuse Victims' Rights Act of 1986, 18 U.S.C. § 2251 et seq ., and a claim for battery from childhood sexual abuse under Pennsylvania law. (Doc. 1). Presently before the court is defendant Kevin Clash's ("Clash") motion (Doc. 11) to transfer, stay, or dismiss the above-captioned action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the motion in part, deem it withdrawn in part, and order additional briefing related to subject-matter jurisdiction.[1]

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The instant motion to dismiss comes before the court pursuant to Federal

Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Accordingly, the court will "accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff."[2] Carino v. Stefan , 376 F.3d 156, 159 (3d Cir. 2004).

Stephens was born in July 1988[3] and currently resides in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 1, 9; Doc. 19 at 1). In 2004, when Stephens was sixteen years old, he met Clash at a social networking event for models and actors. (Doc. 1 ¶ 10). Clash was born in 1960 and is a known puppeteer and voice actor for children's programming, including the voice of Elmo on the television show, Sesame Street. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 8). At their first meeting, Clash allegedly told Stephens that he would help Stephens with his acting career. (Id. ¶ 11). Clash encouraged Stephens to verify his background and credentials on the Internet and to send him modeling pictures for distribution to his contacts in the industry. (Id.) After the networking event, Stephens and Clash remained in contact by telephone. (Id.)

During their telephone conversations, Clash expressed an interest in having a sexual relationship with Stephens. (Id. ¶ 12). Clash also showered Stephens with "attention and affection." (Id.) Eventually, Clash made arrangements for Stephens to visit him by sending a chauffeur to transport Stephens from Harrisburg to New York. (Id. ¶ 13). After Stephens arrived at Clash's apartment in New York, Stephens and Clash purportedly engaged in sexual intercourse. (Id. ¶ 14). According to the complaint, this pattern of sexual activity began when Stephens was sixteen years old and continued for a period of several years.[4] (Id.)

On March 18, 2013, Stephens filed his complaint (Doc. 1) against Clash under the Child Abuse Victims' Rights Act of 1986, which provides a private right of action for civil damages for victims of child sexual exploitation in violation of certain criminal statutes.[5] See 18 U.S.C. § 2255. Specifically, Stephens claims that Clash violated 18 U.S.C. § 2423, which prohibits the knowing transportation of a minor in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and 18 U.S.C. § 2422, which prohibits using any facility or means of interstate commerce to knowingly persuade, induce, entice, or coerce a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity or to travel in interstate commerce for such purpose. Stephens also asserts a state law claim for battery based upon childhood sexual abuse. See 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 5533(b). Stephens alleges that he was a minor when his contact with Clash began, and that he was not emotionally or psychologically prepared for a sexual relationship with an adult. (Doc. 1 ¶ 17). As a compliant victim, Stephens contends that he was not immediately aware of his injuries, and he further contends that he did not become aware of the adverse psychological and emotional effects, or their causal connection to Clash's conduct, until 2011. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18).

Clash filed this motion (Doc. 11) on May 15, 2013, asserting that the statute of limitations bars Stephens' claims against him under 18 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. 12 at 8-9). Stephens opposes the motion on the ground that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until he became aware of his injury and its cause under the discovery rule. (Doc. 19 at 11-12). Regarding the state law claim, Clash argues that Stephens failed to plead "forcible compulsion, " an element of battery based upon childhood sexual abuse.[6] (Doc. 12 at 13, 16); see 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 5533(b)(2)(ii). Clash also alleges that, in the event the two federal claims are dismissed, Stephens cannot satisfy the amount in controversy requirement for diversity jurisdiction over the remaining state law claim. (Doc. 12 at 18).

II. Jurisdiction and Legal Standard

The court has jurisdiction over the instant matter because the complaint presents a question of federal law. (Doc. 1 ¶ 4); see 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Stephens seeks to recover civil damages for injuries he suffered as a victim of child sexual exploitation. See 18 U.S.C. § 2255(a). The court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim for sexual battery because it is related to and shares a "common nucleus of operative facts" with the federal claims, thus forming part of the same case or controversy. 28 U.S.C. § 1367; Lyon v. Whisman , 45 F.3d 758, 759-60 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting United Mine Workers v. Gibbs , 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966)). Stephens also alleges that the court may exercise diversity jurisdiction over all of his claims. (Doc. 1 ¶ 5). According to the complaint, the parties are completely diverse of citizenship and the amount in controversy as to all claims exceeds $75, 000. (Id.); see 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); 18 U.S.C. § 2255(a).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. FED. R. CIV.

P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. , 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)); see also Kanter v. Barella , 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher , 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)).

Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide "the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Phillips , 515 F.3d at 232 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the court must conduct a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp. , 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, "the court must tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id . (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id .; see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the court isolates the well-pleaded factual allegations, it must determine whether they are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"). A claim "has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is ...

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