Court Interprets, and Finds Claim Stated Against Paul Haggis Under, the NYC Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Law

In Haleigh Breest v. Paul Haggis, No. 161137/17, 9783, 2019 N.Y. Slip Op. 09398, 2019 WL 7196544 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept., Dec. 26, 2019), the court addressed the following question: 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 N.Y. § 10–1101 et seq.) (VGM).

Specifically, this appeal turns on the meaning of the phrase “an animus based on the victim’s gender.”

In sum, plaintiff sued Paul Haggis, asserting a claim under VGM arising from an alleged rape and sexual assault in Haggis’ apartment.

the lower court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint and to strike allegations of three other sexual assaults allegedly perpetrated by defendant against other women (referred to in the decision as “Jane Doe allegations”).

In determining that the plaintiff stated a claim under the VGM, the court explained:

Plaintiff’s interpretation of the animus requirement, that it signifies “attitude or governing spirit,” would render superfluous the language that comes immediately before it in the statute. As noted above, VGM defines a “crime of violence motivated by gender” as a crime “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). It is redundant to say that a crime is committed “because of gender or on the basis of gender” and that the crime is due in part because of animus based on gender, where animus is defined as an “attitude or governing spirit” based on the victim’s gender. In order for animus to add meaning to the statute, and avoid redundancy, it must mean what defendant urges: malice or ill will.

However, even under this definition plaintiff’s claims in the amended complaint that she was raped and sexually assaulted are sufficient to allege animus on the basis of gender. She need not allege any further evidence of gender-based animus. Defendant has conceded that the allegations herein are sufficient to show that the acts alleged were “committed because of gender or on the basis of gender.” That the alleged rape and sexual assault was “due, at least in part, to an animus based on the victim’s gender” is sufficiently pleaded by the nature of the crimes alleged.

Rape and sexual assault are, by definition, actions taken against the victim without the victim’s consent. Without consent, sexual acts such as those alleged in the complaint are a violation of the victim’s bodily autonomy and an expression of the perpetrator’s contempt for that autonomy. Coerced sexual activity is dehumanizing and fear-inducing. Malice or ill will based on gender is apparent from the alleged commission of the act itself. Animus inheres where consent is absent.

The court next held that the court should have granted defendant’s motion (under CPLR 3024(b)) to strike the Jane Joe allegations, reasoning that they “are not necessary to satisfy the animus requirement of VGM” and that “they serve no purpose at this juncture and tend to prejudice defendant.” It was clear, however, that such allegations might be appropriate in another VGM complaint asserting different facts.

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