Sugar Babies, Sexual Assault Claims, Takedown Demands, and Microaggressions

All together, in a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision handed down today.


From Kiani v. Huha:

Self-described "sugar baby" Shawdy Kiani initiated a four-month sexual relationship with "sugar daddy" John Huha, exchanging "companionship" for lavishments. Kiani spurned Huha's attempt to elevate the arrangement into a real romance, and the relationship ended.

When Huha refused to remove from his social-media page photographs of Kiani and Huha as a couple and an image of Kiani's text message describing herself as his "prostitute," Kiani moved for a harassment restraining order claiming that she had been too intoxicated to consent and was therefore sexually assaulted during their first sexual rendezvous. The district court rejected Kiani's sexual-assault claim as incredible and only partially granted her motion.

Kiani argues that the district court was biased and erroneously found her incredible, erroneously admitted evidence, erroneously defined "sexual assault," and erroneously decided that Huha's social-media postingwas not harassment. Because the district court was not biased and did not clearly err by rejecting Kiani's sex-assault claim as a lie, because no erroneously admitted evidence prejudiced Kiani's motion, because the definition of sexual assault was immaterial, and because the district court reasonably concluded that the posting was not harassment, we affirm.

Here's the court's summary of the facts, the factual dispute, and the proceedings in the trial court:

In early 2017, twenty-year-old Shawdy Kiani visited the "Seeking Arrangements" online service, where, according to Kiani, "You can find a 'sugar daddy.' " The website promises a young woman (a "sugar baby") the opportunity to meet an older man (a "sugar daddy") for "companionship." The district court described the resulting arrangement candidly: "This 'sugar baby – sugar daddy' relationship is replete with euphemisms. In fact, realistically it is an exchange of primarily sexual services by the woman in return for large financial payments from the man."

Kiani met John Huha, a man in his mid-thirties, through the website. The two began a sexual relationship that lasted roughly four months (but the precise length is unclear). An episode during their first sexual liaison is a central event in this appeal.

Kiani and Huha communicated online and by text messaging for several weeks before their first liaison. They arranged to meet for a weekend in Pittsburgh, where Huha lived, specifically to engage in sexual intercourse. Kiani flew to Pittsburgh on a Friday afternoon. She met Huha in person for the first time. The two engaged in sexual intercourse at least once that Friday and several times the next morning and afternoon before they went out to dinner. Kiani drank alcoholic beverages steadily over dinner, and, according to her, she became quite drunk.

Kiani claims to remember only returning to their hotel room that Saturday evening before vomiting and passing out. She says that the next thing she remembers is waking up Sunday morning in bed with Huha. She asked him if they had had sex after dinner, and Huha said they had. They ate brunch together. Later that day Kiani boarded her scheduled flight and returned to Minnesota.

The sugar baby – sugar daddy relationship continued for months. Within two weeks of the Pittsburgh encounter, Huha flew to Minneapolis to meet with Kiani. Then they met in Miami, and then in Minneapolis, and finally Ohio. The district court found that, during this period, Kiani perceived that Huha "wanted their relationship to become more romantic" while Kiani "wanted to keep their relationship as it started—money from him in return for companionship and sex from her."

The disagreement came to a head during their Florida encounter, after which Kiani says she first tried to end the relationship. But she apparently had second thoughts, because the arrangement continued. Kiani wanted to impose some restrictions, however, so she told Huha expressly, "[I]f you want to see me like it has to be a real sugar baby/sugar daddy relationship, and so I said we can meet two weekends a month and then you would like help me out financially." She then met with Huha again in Minnesota and Ohio. Huha funded all of their escapades, each involving sex.

Sometime after the Ohio trip, Huha posted photographs of himself and Kiani together on social media. The photographs are not sexually graphic; they are headshots of the two together, smiling, like a typical couple.

But at some point the arrangement ended, and Kiani took issue with Huha's characterization of it as typically romantic. Kiani sent Huha a text message complaining about the posted photos, adding, "I am not [your] ex." When Huha responded asking Kiani what, then, she had been to him, Kiani replied, "Your prostitute." Huha captured the image of this text-message exchange and added it to the photos on his Instagram profile.

Kiani demanded that Huha remove the post. He refused. During an angry text-message exchange over several days, Huha complained that he had given Kiani $30,000 during their relationship, which the district court found to have been entirely "based upon consensual sex for financial reward."

Kiani's attorney sent Huha a letter demanding that he cease all contact with Kiani and remove all social-media posts depicting her. Huha again refused. Kiani petitioned for an ex-parte harassment restraining order, asserting for the first time that Huha had sexually assaulted her during their initial encounter in Pittsburgh. She asked the district court to order Huha to remove the photographs. Relying only on Kiani's allegations, the district court issued a restraining order pending an evidentiary hearing.

Only Kiani testified at the hearing. She testified to the account just described and claimed that the Saturday-evening sexual encounter during the initial liaison constituted sexual assault. Over the objection of Kiani's attorney, Huha's attorney offered into evidence the demand letter in which Kiani complained about the social-media photographs but said nothing of any alleged assault.

The district court found that Kiani was generally not credible, that her assault allegation was particularly incredible, that no sexual assault occurred, and that Huha's posting of the photographs on Facebook did not constitute "harassment" under Minnesota Statutes, section 609.748 (2017).

But the district court did find that the lengthy text-message exchange between the parties about the Instagram posting was "hostile in tone and somewhat threatening." It observed that neither party "expresses any desire to communicate with the other by any means" and that they live far apart in different states. It concluded that a "minor degree of harassment" in the text messages justified extending the restraining order two months, with no requirement to remove any internet post.

Kiani appealed; one of her arguments was that the district court erred in finding her incredible; the court of appeals disagreed:

We review a district court's credibility determination for clear error. In doing so, we accord the district court great deference. As the supreme court has long established, "the trial court is in a far better position than we are to evaluate the various factors bearing on the credibility of the witnesses, such as their demeanor, disposition, and character." …

In exceptional fashion, the district court thoroughly and reasonably explained its credibility determination based both on logic and witness demeanor. The district court observed, for example, that "[t]here was no corroboration at all" to support Kiani's claim of being sexually assaulted during the parties' first rendezvous. It considered that Kiani only recently came to claim that the after-dinner sexual contact was an assault. It highlighted that she had never reported an assault to any authority. It recognized that she had never behaved as if the episode was an assault.

The court said that it had observed Kiani's "demeanor and attitude carefully and listened to her testimony diligently, through both direct and cross examinations." Based on this, it found that "[h]er credibility was quite poor. Her testimony was vague, approaching flippant at times, and contained numerous evasions and omissions. She did not display great concern for factual truth overall. Significant events and actions were often bypassed or glossed over …. [Kiani] simply was not a credible witness."

It reasoned that the only way to believe Kiani's claim that she was intoxicated and helpless would be to take her at her word, but it found that "[she] had little credibility overall, and less as to this claim." It concluded frankly, "Her testimony on the point was not believable." This vivid description by Referee Richard Trachy explaining why he was rejecting Kiani's allegation is a model of thoughtful scrutiny, and the district court's factually supported decision to disbelieve Kiani is therefore certainly not clearly erroneous.

Kiani would have us hold otherwise based on three theories: Kiani's testimony was not challenged by any other testimony; the district court referee was biased against Kiani; and the credibility determination is logically inconsistent with the district court's two-month restraining-order extension. None of these theories is convincing.

We reject Kiani's contention that the district court clearly erred by finding her incredible on the theory that, as the sole witness, Kiani must be believed. A district court sitting as fact-finder "is the sole judge of the credibility of witnesses and may accept all or only part of any witness'[s] testimony." The fact-finder "is not compelled to believe any witness merely because [her] testimony is uncontradicted." …

The court also rejected Kiani's claim that the district court manifested bias against her, as shown by its supposed "microaggressions":

Kiani maintains that the referee's bias was manifested in the referee's words because he interrupted her testimony and stated, "I'm sorry, I'm having a little trouble understanding you. If you could try … to speak either a little louder or a little slower. … There is a slight accent. Try again."

Kiani labels these comments "microaggressions," which, she proclaims, "have no place in our justice system." Kiani does not define the term "microaggression." The term does not appear in any Minnesota statute or rule of court, any published or unpublished Minnesota appellate decision, or any federal appellate decision, so it carries no established meaning in law.

According to Scott O. Lilienfeld, Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence, 12 Perspectives on Psychological Science, 138, 141 (2017), "[t]he term microaggression was coined by Harvard University psychiatrist Chester Pierce in 1970 to describe seemingly minor but damaging put-downs and indignities" based on ethnicity. Lilienfeld explains that a "microaggression" is, by definition, one of several "indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults."

The term "began to filter into the academic mainstream" in 2007. At that time, Professor Derald Wing Sue had similarly described the "nature of microaggressions" as "often unintentional and unconscious." Derald Wing Sue, et al., Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice, American Psychologist, 271, 280 (May–June 2007).

A judge who calls attention to his difficulty comprehending a litigant's testimony because of the dialect, speed, or volume of the litigant's speech has not expressed a hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slight or insult against the litigant unless the judge intends the remarks to constitute a racial slight or insult. Merely labeling the request with the nebulous term "microaggression," which can involve purely unintentional communication, adds nothing to Kiani's unsupported accusation of bias. And nothing in the record hints that the referee's comments veiled some sort of ethnic or other partiality against Kiani. We hold that the referee's comments fall far short of manifesting bias….

And, finally, the court of appeals rejected Kiani's argument that "Huha's posting of the photographs on social media constituted harassment":

Harassment includes "repeated incidents of intrusive or unwanted acts, words, or gestures that have a substantial adverse effect or are intended to have a substantial adverse effect on the safety, security, or privacy of another." "[W]hether certain conduct constitutes harassment may be judged from both an objective standard, when assessing the effect the conduct has on the typical victim, and a subjective standard, to the extent the court may determine the harasser's intent." We review the district court's determination that the photographs did not constitute harassment for an abuse of discretion.

Kiani cites no published opinion to support her proposition that Huha's posting of the apparently inoffensive headshots of Kiani and Huha posing together constitutes harassment. She argues vaguely that the posting of the photographs, "in conjunction with other contacts," constitutes harassment. But the district court remedied the mildly harassing "other contacts" by restraining Huha from contacting Kiani for two months.

Kiani argues that the photographs separately constitute harassment because they "were damaging to [her] relationships with her family and substantially interfered with her privacy." She does not explain how the photographs damaged her relationship with anyone or otherwise interfered with her privacy. The photographs imply only that she and Huha were once a couple. And although the image of Kiani's text message describing herself as Huha's "prostitute" may be embarrassing, she fails to establish that the harassment statute, in the context of the First Amendment, authorizes the district court to prevent damaging or embarrassing self descriptions from being publicly disclosed.

Kiani does not convince us to overturn the district court's finding that "[n]othing about [the photos' placement on Huha's Instagram profile] created a substantial adverse effect upon [Kiani's] safety, security or privacy." …

NEXT: Woman Alleges Police Demanded She Remove Anti-Kavanaugh Sign

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  1. "John Huha"

    Ok, very funny, now what's his *real* name?

    1. It's Sandy. He only really does business under "John."

      1. Do you think she works as "Shawdy"? It seems a red flag to me.

    2. Maybe John Yaya? John Small Berries? John Bigboot

      1. Buckaroo Banzai FTW! "I am sure, in the miserable annals of the Earth, you will be duly enshrined." "Laugh while you can, monkey boy."

          1. I knew there was something I liked about you.

          2. You need to be real careful with these references. Some of us read your stuff at work. People are looking at me and wondering why i am laughing so hard.

          3. "Big boo-TAY! TAY! TAY! TAY!"

  2. This dude is confused. You pay the woman to leave. You don't publicize your "breakup" on Facebook.

    1. She should be suing him for breach of contract. Part of the implicit deal is that both sides keep the deal quiet.

      1. Maybe she needs to retain Avenatti, he specializes in breaching non-disclosure agreements?

        I'm sure he'd be discreet about it too. (sarcasm off)

  3. No where else can I find such marvellous description of the Law !
    best moment of the hour ! THANK YOU

    1. Yes. I'm unsure that this story does raise any kind of seriously contested legal controversy. But it damn well is entertaining enough.

      1. Actually, I expect it to be cited in future cases with claims of "microaggressions"; but, yes, the story is more interesting here than the law.

  4. I wonder if that is the first instance of "microaggression" appearing in a verdict. Probably not, but If it was really defined originally in 1970, it surprises me that it took this long to show up.

    I'm also somewhat surprised the "prostitution" angle had no legal repercussions. If the agreement had been for, say, robbing banks together, it wouldn't just be ignored (unless the statute of limitations kicked in), eh?

    And then there's the Streisand effect. If Kiana thinks Huha's facebook posting was embarrassing, whoo boy is she in for a rude awakening!

    1. Westlaw has the term coming up in three other cases. 2006 being the earliest. One case involving an attorney who messed up their trust funds and claimed the bar was harassing her.

    2. As I understand it prostitution pretty much requires immediate quid pro quo. Just like a kept woman/mistress relationship doesn't qualify.

  5. Grass grows, birds fly, sun shines, and brother, I hurt people.

  6. "The two began a sexual relationship that lasted roughly four months"
    "Huha complained that he had given Kiani $30,000 during their relationship"

    How bad do you have to be to pay a gal $7,500 a month for sex, and get dumped?

    1. Trying to turn a cash-&-carry business arrangement into a romantic relationship where she puts out for love is bad enough.

  7. Extra credit for all law students who use "lavishments" in their exam answers.

    1. If you can't succeed with blandishment, I suppose you might have to offer lavishment.

      1. You can always find a few other words by reading Judge Selya's opinions.

  8. Please everybody!

    Why would Kiani lie about a sexual assault? Just because the details don't hang together and are vague doesn't mean they aren't credible. Believe the women!

  9. Does anyone have contact info for Kiani? She seems like a fun gal.

    1. Read the article again.
      Never sleep with anyone crazier than yourself.

      1. Somebody should have told that to Kiani.

  10. Sounds like a good case for Avenatti

    1. Since he specializes in representing porn stars and other de facto prostitutes, this gal in Minnesota sounds right up his alley.

  11. I wonder how those legal bills are getting paid.

    1. She probably has a GoFundMe page. Christine Ford and Deborah Ramirez did and made out like bandits - and neither had to actually have sex to get the money.

      1. I'm glad progs like to donate so much to scam artists. I would encourage them to donate as much as they can to divert money away from funding more dangerous people and causes. If the Republicans were smart which lets face it many of them aren't they'd use the flood of donations to PP to justify cutting them off from public funds. Plenty of doctors and clinics can perform abortions and women's care, Doesn't need to a specific organization that sticks its nose into politics.

      2. The correct and more honest term for those nowis; "Go Launder My Payoff" sites, An easy, ananymous way to make sure somebody gets their payoff with no messy questions being asked.

    2. By University Student Legal Service at the University of Minnesota; a quick search suggests that there was indeed a student with that name there in 2016-17.

  12. So much blood, sweat, and tears our civilization wastes year after year on going insane over trivial alleged insults to female honor. If we could extract 1/10000th of that energy back we'd probably be enjoying after dinner joyrides in UFOs around Sagittarus A by now. Such a colossal waste and its going to get worse.

    If we look back on virtually every known human society except for our current one. It was either a 'sexist anarchy' which didn't have all these silly rules or had far stricter 'gender' roles and segregation, even the supposedly matriarchal ones. Guess we now know why.

    1. Do you really think that there's been more waste from society addressing trivial insults to female honor than, say, trivial insults to male honor? Because I'd have to guess that thousands of years of war and violence probably would establish otherwise.

      1. Nah you're only looking at the downside. Think of all the times trivial insults led to innovation.

        Person: Elon, you're high. You can't go to Mars.
        Musk: We're going to Mars bitches!

      2. Every heard of the Trojan War? The fall of the Roman Kingdom, Bloody Mary? Wartime propaganda in general Anyone who thinks women haven't been involved in instigating wars since the dawn of time is hopelessly naive.

        1. Trojan War? Was that when Catholic extremists in Ireland resorted to violence in thee 1980s to keep condoms out of their country?

  13. Ms. Kiani, let me introduce you to the Streisand Effect.

  14. I agree, as do all the earlier posters, with the verdict and the reasoning. I do have on quibble.

    "...A judge who calls attention to his difficulty comprehending a litigant's testimony because of the dialect, speed, or volume of the litigant's speech has not expressed a hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slight or insult against the litigant unless the judge intends the remarks to constitute a racial slight or insult...."

    The above quote seems, pretty obviously to me, quite wrong. I can think of lots of comments where any reasonable listener would see a racial negative slight, and this seems unconnected to what was actually in the mind of the speaker. "You're Mexican? Okay, then I'll use small and simple words." "Since you are a 25 year old black male, I'll sentence you as though you were a 15 year old white male." I think that people, pretty much universally, would find that evidence of racial bias. (Although, in the second example, one that would result in a more lenient sentence, so it would benefit the subject.) The fact that the judge in my 2 examples was motivated strictly by concern that her questions be clearly understood by the Mexican, and motivated strictly by her sense that black men in this country tend to be "over-sentenced" by judges, does not automatically mean that these two were not racial slights.

    1. ...[cont]...

      (And how would we get into the mind of the judge, assuming that she did not start her statement with something like, "Man, are Mexicans stupid! In fact, since you're Mexican, I'll use...[etc]."??? Since we cannot read the minds of people, I like using some sort of "reasonable person" standard.)

    2. If the judge had said something along the lines of "I have trouble understanding ..." you might have something of a point, but that's not what the judge in this case said.

      1. "I have trouble understanding {insert ethnicity here}..."

        It got chopped out because I used .

    3. In each case you detail the judge assigns specific attributes to another person based on their race, but in the actual case the judge points to his own inability to understand without calling attention to her race. I'm sure he would have used the same phrasing with certain hard-to-understand native white groups.

      At the end of the day, it's important for the judge to be able to understand the litigant, so he needs to be free to tell them that he cannot understand them. If he can't then she doesn't get a fair shake.

    4. I get your point, and I agree. But I think the appeals court is limiting this to merely "calling attention," as the trial court is alleged to have done (by saying "I'm sorry, I'm having a little trouble understanding you. If you could try . . . to speak either a little louder or a little slower. . . . There is a slight accent. Try again.")

      Both of your examples have the judge changing its ruling/interpretation based on the difficulty comprehending, and there's allegedly nothing in this case tying the judge's "trouble understanding" to the judge's ruling.

      1. I agree with all your observations. I'm merely pointing out that the court suggested a crazy standard...that comments can never be found to be biased unless we managed to get into the judge's head and find improper motive.

        I find that standard to be impossible to meet, and would essentially nullify pretty much every claim of bias.

        1. No, the standard is not that "comments can never be found to be biased unless we managed to get into the judge's head and find improper motive."

          The standard the court used is that the statements on their face have to directly show bias based on protected category. Your sample statements all do. the statements of the judge in this case do not.

  15. Some time earlier I had predicted that the "retroactive withdrawal of consent" theory prevalent on college happens - if the relationship goes sour, it must have always been sour, so what happened months or years ago must have been sexual assault - would eventually lead to prostitutes claiming rape over contract disputes - since he agreed to sex for money, if he doesn't pay what I expect, there was no agreement, hence no consent, hence it was rape.

    This isn't quite that case. But it's close. At least she came up with an artful argument that there was technical non-consent at a particular moment. Her entire claim of sexual assault here is that in one particular tryst of many in the course of their relationship, she had gotten herself too drunk to have legal capacity to consent. Her position is that since legally sexual assault occurred at that particular moment, it simply doesn't matter that she had consented to every other tryst afterwards, nor whether he knew how drunk she was.

    If she prevailed, lawyers ought to start advising clients to get themselves drunk and document that it happened, so they can make a sexual assault claim if anything goes sour in the future if e.g. they want a better divorce settlement.

  16. I used to be a sugar daddy, but divorce took all the sugar. Now I am known as the 'Sweet and Low' daddy

    1. You're a Splenda daddy!

    2. You're definitely not an "Equal Daddy"!!!

  17. Just another example of life in the 21st century.

  18. Like so many family law cases, this one is mostly sadness leavened with gullibility and stupidity. A teenage girl making lousy choices; a 30-something delivery driver trolling nationwide for pay-to-play young girls. Then the breakup that turns loud and ugly. Could either get a job with an employer sophisticated enough to have access to a Google-compatible device, or develop a relationship with someone who can afford an internet connection?

    1. She was 20 when it all started, not a teenager.

      1. You are correct. I do not perceive that the difference improves her position or his.

        1. What "position" do you recommend be used by them?

    2. In what part of America can a 30-something delivery driver make enough money to (a) support himself; AND (b) spend $7,500 a month for sex; AND (c) still be able to afford bi-weekly cross-country weekend jaunts for two with airfare, hotels, and fine restaurant dining? Does such a place, or delivery driver job, exist? Or is it only in the addled mind of the Rev.?

      1. That depends, no doubt, on what product you are delivering.

      2. Well, it wasn't sustainable, but a 30 something delivery driver who had previously been frugal, and bought a house, could have financed the 4 month fling with a home equity loan.

        My first marriage lasted about a year; I hadn't realized I was just a get out of debt quick scheme, and she divorced me as soon as I paid off her debts by refinancing my house. I'd say this guy actually got off a little cheaper than I did.

      3. Or is it only in the addled mind of the Rev.?

        The guy works for a medical courier. Perhaps his parents subsidized his romantic adventures. Or maybe he put the entire adventure on credit (although probably not involving disclosure to his wife/significant other, who must be thrilled by the events and the publicity).

        $30,000 seems steep but it is possible this guy had poor judgment with respect to financial and other matters.

  19. Never have sex with someone who has less to lose than you do. This rule becomes more important the more money a man has.

    1. It seems reasonable to make an exception for a spouse.

      1. No, it should also apply to a spouse.

        1. Unless the spouses have equal amounts to lose, no sex? Especially if the man has money?

          Who says right-wing blogs attract mostly disaffected, sad, anti-social, backward incels?

          1. More don't marry someone with less to lose in the first place.

            See the comment above from Brett Bellmore.

          2. Well, I neither know nor care whether you're an "incel", but I suspect that you are sad and anti-social. On the other hand, you're a leftwing extremist, and probably LGBT or some other type of sexual pervert, and you infest these boards like the boll weevil once infested Southern cotton fields.

  20. Isn't anyone going to put up an OP about how awesome Brett Kavanaugh was today in oral arguments???

  21. C'mon VC bloggers--give us some new cases (spaces added): https://ccrjustice.org/ home/what-we-do/active -cases.

    I'm sure one of you (Prof. Bernstein?) can comment about Davis, et al. v. Cox, et al.; representing current and former Olympia Food Co-op board members who are being sued over their decision to boycott Israeli goods.

    And here's one that TrueAmericanParrot will enjoy: Doe v. Hood; Mississippi still has an "Unnatural Intercourse" statute on the books ? and is still enforcing that statute by requiring people with Unnatural Intercourse convictions (i.e. sodomy) to register as sex offenders--which goes against Lawrence v. Texas.

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