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Trump on the ropes as alleged rape lawsuit takes new turn

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Writer E. Jean Carroll, who claimed in 2019 that Donald Trump had sexually assaulted her almost 30 years ago, filed two civil defamation lawsuits against the former president. However, on Thursday, a Washington, DC, appeals court refused to protect Trump from the first lawsuit. The Court of Appeals, the highest local court in the district, declared that it lacked adequate information to determine whether Trump should be granted immunity.

Trump had accused Carroll of lying about the alleged assault, but the court’s ruling implies the case can proceed. If the court had decided that Trump was operating as president rather than in his personal capacity, he would have been granted immunity, and Carroll’s first lawsuit would have been futile. In such a scenario, the government could take the place of the defendant, and it is immune to defamation lawsuits.

The case has now been referred back to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, which had requested guidance from the Washington court on local law last September.

However, Thursday’s ruling does not impact Carroll’s upcoming trial on April 25 in Manhattan federal court, which also involves a battery claim under a New York law that allows survivors of sexual abuse to sue their alleged attackers, despite the expiry of statutes of limitations.

Trump is seeking to delay this trial until May 23, citing “prejudicial media coverage” of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s recent criminal case against him, which could make it difficult to find impartial jurors. Alina Habba, who is representing Trump, stated via email, “We are confident that the Second Circuit will rule in President Trump’s favor and dismiss Ms. Carroll’s case.”

Both of Carroll’s lawsuits against Trump relate to their alleged encounter in a Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan in the late 1990s. Carroll has claimed that Trump requested her help in buying a present for someone else but then forced himself on her and sexually assaulted her in a dressing room.

Following the publication of an excerpt from Carroll’s memoir in a June 2019 New York magazine article, in which she detailed the incident, Trump denied knowing Carroll and asserted that the allegation was fabricated to boost sales of her book. He claimed that she was “not his type.” He repeated these denials on his Truth Social media platform in October 2022, labeling Carroll’s claims as a “hoax,” “lie,” “con job,” and “complete scam.”

The Washington appeals court ruled that when determining if individuals are acting in the scope of their employment, the district court typically considers whether their actions were motivated by a desire to serve their employer at the time. Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby stated that establishing what was in Trump’s mind when he initially spoke about Carroll was a “fact-intensive question” that could not be resolved as a matter of law based on the available evidence.

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