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Lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of rape overcomes motion to dismiss

Lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of rape overcomes motion to dismiss

Former president's accuser is suing thanks to new law that opened look-back window for sexual assault claims

  • Donald Trump at a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H.
    Michael Vadon/FlickrDonald Trump at a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H.

A federal judge refused Friday to dismiss a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump that stems from an allegedly nonconsensual sexual encounter in the mid-1990s. 

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s decision not only advances the complaint by Trump's accuser, E. Jean Carroll, it also upholds a recent New York law that gives survivors a one-year window to file claims otherwise barred by the statute of limitations. Trump challenged the law, calling it a violation of due process under the New York Constitution. 

An appeals court in the Empire State, Kaplan noted, recently made it clear that a statute passes constitutional muster if it’s “a reasonable measure to address an injustice,” as the judge found is the case here. 

“The answer is obvious,” Kaplan wrote. 

Kaplan dashed Trump’s claim that the Adult Survivors Act did not sufficiently articulate what injustice it sought to remedy. 

“To suggest that the ASA violates the state due process clause because the legislature supposedly did not describe that injustice to the defendant’s entire satisfaction in a particular paragraph of a particular type of legislative document — itself a dubious premise — is absurd,” Kaplan wrote. “There is not a single word in the New York Due Process Clause to support that suggestion.” 

Kaplan previously signaled it was unlikely he’d take down the law, passed unanimously in the New York Senate, and by a margin of 140–3 in the state Legislature. After one of Trump’s attorneys made reference to the forthcoming dismissal motion, Kaplan replied: “I wouldn’t count on that.” 

The Adult Survivors Act is indistinguishable, Kaplan found, from an earlier law New York passed, the Child Victims Act, which opened a similar window for plaintiffs who were minors when an alleged assault took place. The yearlong window for the former law opened in 2020 and resulted in some 9,200 lawsuits.  

New Jersey in 2019 also enacted similar legislation, allowing a two-year window for both child and adult survivors to revive old claims.  

Carroll, a once-popular advice columnist, accuses Trump of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the 1990s. She says the two recognized each other, and that she agreed to help Trump pick out a gift by trying it on, only to have the former president rape her in the dressing room. 

In his motion to dismiss Carroll’s claims, Trump took aim at the law in question only under the New York Constitution, not under federal law. That approach may have been a misstep, one legal expert previously told Courthouse News. 

“I think it was a problematic litigation decision for them to not try to bring the U.S. constitutional claims, even though courts haven’t been super receptive to it in the past," said Cassandra Burke Robertson, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, who correctly predicted that Trump’s approach would fail. 

Judge Kaplan also tossed Trump’s argument that Carroll failed to make a case for libel since she had not suffered “special damages” required by state law when Trump denied having ever met Carroll. 

“Ms. Carroll is a ‘writer, advice columnist, and journalist.’ Honesty and credibility are critical to these professions, which rely heavily on the trust and confidence of their audiences,” Kaplan wrote. “A writer who writes about his or her own experiences, as Ms. Carroll did, depends on his or her readers believing the writer, which they may be less inclined to if the writer is called dishonest.”

Trump plans to appeal the order immediately, according to his attorney Alina Habba. 

Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan said she looks forward to fighting claims at trial, and was “pleased though not surprised” at Kaplan’s decision. 

This lawsuit, for now, stands apart from a separate defamation case Carroll lodged against Trump before the look-back law allowed her to file the second complaint. That case is based on Trump’s comments when he denied Carroll’s account in 2019, including a remark that Carroll is “not my type” and an accusation that the writer was promoting her new book. 

The defamation suit has been tied up in procedural issues for years, and its outcome hinges now in part on a Washington appeals court’s interpretation of a statute that would let Trump use the U.S. Department of Justice as a proxy defendant. If Trump is permitted to exercise the option, the original suit can’t proceed since the federal government has sovereign immunity against defamation claims.

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