Porn Companies Lose Arbitration Bid With Performer Who Claims She Was Trafficked

A gaggle of pornography studios lost their bid to force a performer to arbitrate claims she was allegedly trafficked by a model talent agent who forced her to engage in commercial sex acts and hand over the profits.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Even though he found arbitration agreements between a pornography performer and the video studios which shot and produced the adult films were valid, a federal judge Thursday nonetheless declined to enforce the agreements to avoid potential conflicting court rulings in a novel Trafficking Victims Protection Act case.

Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Anello, in a 22-page order out of the Southern District of California Thursday, denied pornography studios’ motion to compel arbitration in the case brought last year by Jane Doe, who claims she was forced by model talent agent Cissy Steele to film commercial sex videos in California and hand over her earnings.

The order paves the way for Doe’s federal anti-trafficking lawsuit, touted by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center as the first filed against a pornography producer and online pornography website on behalf of a survivor, to go to trial.

“We are pleased with the outcome of the court’s ruling to avoid arbitration. Our client, Jane Doe, a survivor of sex trafficking, deserves justice and we will continue to pursue this for her through the fullest extent of the law,” Doe’s attorneys Lisa Haba of The Haba Law Firm, and Greg Gutzler of Dicello Levitt Gutzler said in an email statement to Courthouse News.

Diabolic Video Productions, Black Ice, Zero Tolerance Entertainment and Third Degree Films claim the performer agreements signed by Doe are valid. But at issue in the case is whether they worked directly with Doe’s agent Steele, a nonparty to the agreements but who is alleged to have been paid directly by the studios for the pornography shoots Doe filmed.

The studios claim they did not work with Steele, but instead purchased two pornography scenes at issue from third party Anthony Stebbins.

The factual conflict regarding the alleged relationship between Steele and the pornography studios was cited by Anello in his order refusing to compel arbitration.

Notably Anello, a George W. Bush appointee, did not find the arbitration agreements Doe signed were unconscionable or entered under duress, finding Doe failed to provide evidentiary support to prove the performer agreements were invalid.

But he instead found Doe satisfied her burden to show the pornography studios are parties to the pending action with Steele related to the alleged sex trafficking.

Forcing Doe to arbitrate her claims the pornography studios “ratified and perpetuated the human trafficking scheme” could result in conflicting factual rulings regarding the relationship between Steele and the studios, Anello wrote.

“The court finds that there is more than a mere possibility of conflicting factual rulings regarding the relationship between Steele and video defendants. In fact, video defendants challenge plaintiff’s claims regarding their interaction with Steele and the alleged sex trafficking,” Anello wrote.

He continued: “If the Court were to compel arbitration, the Court and the arbitrator would need to resolve overlapping issues that could result in conflicting rulings. Video Defendants’ objections speak to the core of Plaintiff’s allegations against them.”

Anello noted in denying the motion to compel arbitration he is precluded under California Code of Civil Procedure from considering the merits of a party’s claims when ruling on a motion to compel arbitration.

The pornography studios are represented by Jonathan Brown of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria of Buffalo, New York who did not return a phone request for comment.

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