I’ll Be Missing You(r Particularity): Ignoring Salacious Allegations to Focus on Pleading Standards

I’ll Be Missing You(r Particularity): Ignoring Salacious Allegations to Focus on Pleading Standards

Of the thousands of lawsuits that are filed each day, most fly under the radar and do not generate much media attention. However, a recent lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York against Sean Combs (a.k.a. “Puff Daddy” or “P. Diddy”), a rapper and producer, made headlines due to its explosive allegations of sexual assault and other illicit behavior.[i] But in a complaint filled with scandalous accusations, it is easy to miss what is not there – the specificity required for allegations to form a basis for a claim. A recent motion to dismiss filed by UMG Recordings, Inc. (“UMG”) – which was named as a defendant alongside Mr. Combs – shows the value of focusing on pleading standards rather than salacious allegations.

 

Allegations in First Amended Complaint

Plaintiff Rodney “Lil Rod” Jones, Jr. styles himself as a “musical prodigy.”[ii] From September 2022 to November 2023, Mr. Jones produced nine songs for Mr. Comb’s R&B album, The Love Album: Off the Grid.[iii] During this period, Mr. Jones lived with Mr. Combs for “months at a time,” including Mr. Comb’s residences in New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami, as well as a yacht in the US Virgin Islands.[iv]

Mr. Jones alleges that, during this time, he witnessed a barrage of criminal conduct by Mr. Combs. He claims Mr. Combs would hold “listening parties” attended by underaged women who were unknowingly drugged by Mr. Combs and his associates.[v] He also claims Mr. Combs was involved in a cover-up of a shooting that occurred during a writers and producers camp for the album at Chalice Recording Studio in Los Angeles.[vi] Mr. Combs and his associates also allegedly sexually harassed and assaulted Mr. Jones.[vii] All of this behavior was allegedly part of a vast criminal conspiracy involving not only Mr. Combs and his associates, but also UMG.[viii]

While the bases of Mr. Jones’s claims against Mr. Combs are clear, less certain are the legal theories that seek to hold UMG liable for such conduct. In his first amended complaint, Mr. Jones claims Motown Records is the “parent company” of Love Records, a record label founded by Mr. Combs. [ix] Although it is not explicitly alleged in the first amended complaint, Motown Records is a part of UMG.[x] UMG allegedly sponsored the “listening parties” at which underaged women were drugged and provided security at Chalice Recording Studio on the day of the shooting.[xi] UMG also allegedly provided “vast sums of cash” to Mr. Combs, which allowed him to continue his criminal enterprise.[xii]

Of the sixteen causes of action in the first amended complaint, five are asserted against UMG: violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”),[xiii] aiding and abetting a sex-trafficking venture in violation of the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act (“TVPA”),[xiv] being a knowing beneficiary of sex-trafficking in violation of the TVPA, obstruction of the enforcement of the TVPA, and common-law premises liability arising from UMG’s failure to provide sufficient security in connection with the shooting at Chalice Recording Studio.

 

RICO Claims and Specificity Requirements

In order to survive a motion to dismiss, a civil RICO claim must include allegations that each defendant: (1) committed two or more predicate acts of “racketeering activity,” (2) constituting a “pattern,” (3) through an “enterprise,” (4) which each defendant directed the operation and management of, (5) causing property loss for the plaintiff.[xv] UMG correctly notes in its motion to dismiss that courts “look[] with particular scrutiny at [c]ivil RICO claims to ensure that the Statute is used for the purposes intended by Congress.”[xvi] Furthermore, when mail or wire fraud is alleged as the requisite predicate act for a RICO claim, plaintiffs are required to satisfy the heightened pleading requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b), which requires that a party state “with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake.”[xvii]

As an initial matter, UMG argues plaintiff failed to meet these specificity requirements with regards to the first element of a RICO claim – the predicate acts of racketeering activity. While plaintiff alleges that UMG and its co-defendants utilized mail and interstate wires in the service of a diverse assortment of lurid criminal conduct – including the “solicitation of sexual encounters with prostitutes, sex workers, and minors, and the purchasing and distribution of illegal firearms are drugs”[xviii] – there are no specific allegations regarding the particular acts of mail and wire fraud, including the content of the alleged misrepresentations, the date and place of the misrepresentations, and the identities of the individuals making the misrepresentation.[xix]

UMG also argues plaintiff’s allegations lack the specificity required for other elements of the RICO claim. Rather than identify the alleged RICO enterprise at issue, plaintiff merely makes what UMG categorizes as “group pleadings”: alleging the “defendants” as a whole participated in the predicate acts of racketeering activity. These types of “group pleadings” have been found insufficient to properly plead a RICO enterprise.[xx] UMG also argues plaintiff fails to properly allege UMG contributed to the “operation and management” of the entries, noting the wrongful conduct in the complaint is attributed to Mr. Combs and his associates. Plaintiff’s attempt to attribute this conduct to UMG via vicarious liability is not permissible in the Second Circuit, which includes the Southern District of New York.[xxi]

 

The TVPA and Premises Liability Claims

In response to the TVPA claims brought against it, UMG correctly argues the TVPA does not create a private cause of action for aiding or abetting[xxii] or for obstruction.[xxiii] With regards to the cause of action alleging that UMG was a knowing beneficiary of sex-trafficking, UMG argues plaintiff fails to allege facts showing any participation by or benefit to UMG with regards to the alleged sex trafficking. UMG also argues that it cannot be held liable for the premises liability claim as it did not provide security at Chalice Recording Studio at the time of the shooting and was not responsible for same.

 

A Decision Delayed

As set forth above, given the lack of specificity in the complaint, it was likely the court would have dismissed the RICO claims against UMG. Similarly, the lack of a private right of action in the TVPA would likely have doomed plaintiff’s aiding and abetting and obstruction claims; the “knowing beneficiary” claim would have also likely been dismissed because of a lack of specificity. UMG’s weakest argument concerned the premises liability claim, as it relies on disputing the factual allegations in the complaint that UMG was responsible for security at Chalice Recording Studio at the time of the shooting. In evaluating a motion to dismiss, a court must assume the truth of the allegations in a complaint.[xxiv] As such, an argument contesting the truth of the allegations in the complaint – even when supported by affidavits, as UMG did in this matter – is unlikely to succeed in the context of a motion to dismiss.

However, before the court could rule on UMG’s motion to dismiss, plaintiff interposed a second amended complaint. This led the court to determine UMG’s motion was moot; however, the court did set a timeline for UMG’s seemingly inevitable motion to dismiss the second amended complaint. Given that the second amended complaint does not meaningfully address the specificity issues discussed above, it is likely plaintiff merely delayed dismissal of most of the claims against UMG.

 

Takeaway

In the face of tawdry allegations regarding sex, drugs, and violence, it may seem insufficient to focus on procedural defects. But as demonstrated by UMG’s motion, holding plaintiffs to pleading standards can be an effective defense to even the most explosive claims. As such, a successful defense will focus on procedural requirements rather than salacious allegations when challenging the sufficiency of a complaint.

 

 

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[i] Jones v. Combs, No. 24-cv-01457 (S.D.N.Y. 2024).

[ii] First Amended Complaint at ¶ 18, Jones v. Combs, No. 24-cv-01457 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 4, 2024), ECF No. 2, https://ecf.nysd.uscourts.gov/doc1/127135032955.

[iii] Id. at ¶ 24.

[iv] Id. at ¶¶ 25-26.

[v] Id. at ¶¶ 164-166.

[vi] Id. at ¶¶ 31-70.

[vii] Id. at ¶¶ 74-100.

[viii] Id. at ¶¶ 199-246.

[ix] Id. at ¶¶ 4, 9.

[x] Motown Records homepage, Motown Records, https://www.motownrecords.com/.

[xi] Id. at ¶¶ 51, 164.

[xii] Id. at 339

[xiii] 18 U.S.C. § 1962.

[xiv] 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591, 1595.

[xv] Lundy v. Cath. Health Sys. of Long Island Inc., 711 F.3d 106, 119 (2d Cir. 2013).

[xvi] Goldfine v. Sichenzia, 118 F. Supp. 2d 392, 396-97 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).

[xvii] Nasik Breeding & Research Farm Ltd. v. Merck & Co., 165 F. Supp. 2d 514, 537 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (“The courts of this Circuit have recognized that the policies behind Rule 9(b)’s particularity requirement apply with particular force in RICO actions.”).

[xviii] First Amended Complaint at ¶ 221, Jones v. Combs, No. 24-cv-01457 (S.D.N.Y. 2024), ECF No. 2, https://ecf.nysd.uscourts.gov/doc1/127135032955.

[xix] Highlands Ins. Co. v. PRG Brokerage, Inc., No. 01-CV-2272, 2004 WL 35439, at *2-4 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 6, 2004).

[xx] Cedar Swamp Holdings, Inc. v. Zaman, 487 F. Supp. 2d 444, 450 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (“[M]erely stringing together a list of defendants and labeling them an enterprise is insufficient.”).

[xxi] Makowski v. United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners of Am., No. 08-CV-6150, 2010 WL 3026510, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 2, 2010).

[xxii] Noble v. Weinstein, 335 F. Supp. 3d 504, 525 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (“To be clear, aiding and abetting liability is not provided for in Section 1595. And ‘when Congress enacts a statute under which a person may sue and recover damages from a private defendant for the defendant’s violation of some statutory norm, there is no general presumption that the plaintiff may also sue aiders and abettors.’”) (citation omitted).

[xxiii] Jane Doe No. 1 et al v. Daniel S. Fitzgerald, No. CV2010713, 2022 WL 425016, at *4 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 6, 2022) (“Plaintiffs do not have a private right of action under subsection (d). Rather, that provision is limited to government enforcement”).

[xxiv] Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 508, n. 1 (2002).