Appellate Court Rejects Attempts by President Trump to Duck Defamation Suit — Chicago Defamation Libel and Slander Attorneys

In a lengthy opinion, a split New York appeals court rejected President Trump’s argument that he was immune from a defamation lawsuit by virtue of his position as President. The plaintiff in the libel suit is former Apprentice contestant, Summer Zervos. With this opinion, President Trump joins President Clinton as contributors to the jurisprudence clarifying the contours and extent of presidential immunity. The appellate court in Zervos v. Trump relied heavily upon Clinton v. Jones, the 1997 U.S. Supreme Court opinion which held that presidents aren’t immune from civil actions in federal court based on purely private conduct.

The underlying defamation lawsuit stems from statements made by Trump during his campaign. Following release of a video depicting Trump making crude comments about women, Zervos held a press conference in which she accused Trump of kissing her twice in 2007 and attacking her and making unwanted sexual advances in a Beverly Hills hotel room.

Trump responded to Zervos’s accusations with a flurry of statements saying “I never met her at a hotel” and that the “allegations are 100% false. . . . They are made up, they never happened.” In several tweets and at campaign rallies, Trump further responded to the accusations of Zervos and others claiming, “I didn’t know any of these women,” and “didn’t see these women” and their allegations were “100 percent fabricated and made-up charges, pushed strongly by the media and the Clinton campaign.”

Zervos followed these statements by filing a defamation suit alleging that Trump’s statements amounted to branding her a liar which damaged her reputation in the community. Zervos seeks actual and punitive damages from the President. Ms. Zervos’s attorney, Gloria Allred, announced the lawsuit days before President Trump took office.

President Trump sought to have the libel lawsuit dismissed by claiming that a New York state court did not have jurisdiction over a sitting President. Trump’s lawyers argued that the Constitution’s supremacy clause, which prohibits states from interfering with the federal government’s exercise of its powers, precluded the suit from progressing. His lawyers argued that the suit could interfere with the President’s ability to perform his duties. The trial court rejected the arguments.

The five judge appellate panel split 3-2 with the majority siding with the trial court in rejecting the arguments. The appellate court ruled that the President had misinterpreted the clause which “[r]ead plainly . . . confers ‘supreme’ status on federal laws, not on the status of a federal official,” the opinion concluded.

Two judges on the appellate panel dissented, finding that having to defend against a defamation lawsuit could interfere with the President’s ability to perform his duties. “The court holds the power to direct him to respond to discovery demands, to sit for a deposition and to appear before it,” Justice Mazzarelli wrote. The dissent argued that the majority misunderstood and misapplied Clinton v. Jones. The full opinion can be found here.

Defamation law focuses on recompensing a person who has had his reputation tarnished by another’s statement. Whether you are being accused of harming someone’s reputation or you believe someone else has harmed your reputation by making defamatory statements, it is important to find an experienced defamation law attorney who will know the elements of a defamation claim, common defenses, and sources of evidence for proving or defending against such a claim. Our Will County defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. You can view here a federal court decision where we prevailed in a libel per se claim asserting the innocent infringer defense. Here is an arbitration decision where we won a decision in favor our client after we presented evidence and cross-examined the used car dealer defendant at a hearing where we proved that our client’s 20 plus Youtube videos voicing his opinion that a used car dealer committed consumer fraud were true, were protected opinions under the First Amendment, or involved inconsequential and minor errors of fact. We recently required a defendant who publicized an allegedly false lawsuit regarding our client to provide an apology and full retraction as part of a confidential financial settlement following our filing of a $16 million suit for libel per se in federal district court. You can read about that case here.

Our Kane County Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Aurora and Elgin who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.

Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorney Peter Lubin a Super Lawyer in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation and Chicago slander attorney Patrick Austermuehle a Rising Star. Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over thirty years of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights, and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business lawsuits involving injunctions and TROs, defamation, libel, and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.

Lubin Austermuehle’s Lake County defamation and slander lawyers near Geneva and Hinsdale have more than three decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Chicago, Elmhurst, and Wilmette near Evanston and Batavia, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.  You can contact us online here or call us on our locally at 630-333-0333.

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