Justices' Rejection of Trump's Absolute Immunity Claim Should Apply in Civil Defamation Suit, Roberta Kaplan Argues

By: 
New York Law Journal
Published on:
July 10, 2020
Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

Attorney Roberta Kaplan argued Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that President Donald Trump can’t claim absolute immunity from a Manhattan grand jury subpoena should directly affect a defamation lawsuit against Trump in New York civil court.

Kaplan’s argument comes just one day after the high court announced its 7-2 decision  in Trump v. Vance, which said prosecutors may seek financial records in a criminal investigation.

Kaplan represents the advice columnist and book author E. Jean Carroll, who has accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. Carroll sued Trump for defamation in 2019 after he denied the allegation and said the author made it up, according to court filings.

The president’s attorneys have argued that the case must be stayed until the New York Court of Appeals issues its decision in Zervos v. Trump, which involves similar facts. In both cases, Trump has asserted that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution precludes a sitting president from being brought into state court for conduct that is not related to his federal duties.

The arguments “fail for the same reasons,” Kaplan argued in a letter to New York County Supreme Court Justice Verna Saunders Friday.

“The Supreme Court has now spoken, and it has rejected the supposed state-federal distinction that Trump has pressed in VanceZervos, and this case,” Kaplan wrote. “In the same breath, the Supreme Court has also rejected the policy arguments Trump has advanced here for treating him as immune from suit in state court.”

Arguing against a stay in the Carroll case, Kaplan wrote that the Vance ruling “leaves no question” that the Court of Appeals will allow the Zervos case to move forward.

In a statement, Kaplan emphasized that the Supreme Court ruling showed no one is above the law, not even the president.

“Despite years of delay caused by Trump’s lawyers arguing to the contrary, it is now clear that Donald Trump has no special right to defame women who have accused him of sexual misconduct and then avoid the consequences of his actions because he is president,” she said. “E. Jean Carroll should be permitted to resume discovery in her case as soon as possible so that a jury can decide who is telling the truth – E. Jean or Donald Trump.”

Trump’s attorney, Patrick McPartland of LaRocca Hornik Rosen & Greenberg, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Trump recently withdrew part of his affirmative defense in the case after Kaplan filed a motion to strike, citing Trump’s statements to a group of governors that he lives “in Manhattan.” Trump could not simultaneously assert that he is not subject to personal jurisdiction in New York in the Carroll case, Kaplan argued.

Read this article at the New York Law Journal.

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