Dec 13, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Court rejects Trump's request for immunity in E. Jean Carroll defamation suit

Former President Trump at an event in New York City on Dec. 9.

Former President Trump at an event in New York City on Dec. 9. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

A federal appeals court rejected former President Trump's request for presidential immunity from a defamation lawsuit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll for comments he made while denying her rape accusations in 2019.

Why it matters: Trump has attempted to delay the lawsuit by claiming he was acting within the scope of his office when he accused Carroll of making up her rape accusations, an argument that was rejected by the Department of Justice earlier this year.

Catch up quickly: This defamation lawsuit is separate from a sexual abuse and defamation suit Carroll previously filed against Trump.

  • In the trial over that lawsuit earlier this year, a jury found Trump liable for sexual battery and defamation against Carroll and ordered him to pay her $5 million in damages.
  • The jury did not find Trump liable for rape in the trial, though it was one of the types of battery the jurors were instructed to consider by the judge.
  • The lawsuit the appeals court ruled on Wednesday is Carroll's original 2019 defamation lawsuit against Trump over his claim that she fabricated her rape accusations against him to boost her book sales.

What they're saying: "We are pleased that the Second Circuit affirmed Judge [Lewis] Kaplan's rulings and that we can now move forward with trial next month on January 16," Robbie Kaplan, Carroll's attorney (of no relation to the judge), said in a statement on Wednesday.

  • Representatives for Trump did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

The Second Circuit had to decide whether it is possible to waive presidential immunity, which is granted by the Westfall Act.

  • The act grants federal employees absolute immunity from personal tort lawsuits if they committed the conduct at issue while acting within the scope of their office or employment.
  • The Second Circuit found that presidential immunity is waivable and Trump had waived it by not invoking the defense when he first responded to Carroll's original lawsuit.

Zoom in: The Second Circuit noted that Trump's counsel also conceded during oral arguments that if presidential immunity is waivable, he then had done so.

  • Because Trump waived the defense, the court also rejected his motion for summary judgment on the lawsuit.

The big picture: When the lawsuit goes to trial in January, it will not be to determine if Trump is liable, as a federal judge already found that he had defamed Carroll as part of a partial judgment made earlier this year.

  • The judgment was based on the findings and outcome of the previous trial.
  • The trial next month will instead be to determine how much in damages Trump will owe Carroll, and those damages will be separate from the $5 million the jury ordered him to pay in the previous trial.

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