Executive Branch

'Apprentice' contestant's suit against Trump can proceed without delay, appeals court rules

  • Print.


President Donald Trump. Photo by Shealah Craighead via the White House and Wikimedia Commons.

A New York appeals court has refused to delay a defamation suit filed against President Donald Trump by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice.

The Appellate Division’s First Judicial Department of the New York Supreme Court ruled against Trump in a 3-2 decision Thursday. The Washington Post, the New York Law Journal and the Associated Press have stories.

Zervos had alleged that Trump defamed her during the presidential campaign when he claimed her sexual misconduct allegations were lies. She had claimed that Trump kissed her twice on the lips during a 2007 meeting at his office, and then he kissed and groped her the next time she saw him at a hotel where she had gone to join him for dinner.

The appeals court cited the Paula Jones case, a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that refused to delay Jones’ civil harassment suit against then-President Bill Clinton. The Supreme Court had ruled that the separation of powers doctrine didn’t bar federal courts from proceeding with the suit.

Lawyers for Trump had argued that the decision in Clinton v. Jones didn’t settle the question of immunity from suit in state court. They had argued that Trump was protected from suit in state courts by the supremacy clause, which provides that federal law supersedes state law when there is a conflict.

The appeals court majority disagreed. “We find that the supremacy clause was never intended to deprive a state court of its authority to decide cases and controversies under the state’s constitution,” the court said in an opinion by Dianne Renwick.

The court also ruled that Zervos had made out a sufficient claim of defamation, and her suit was not barred by California’s anti-SLAPP law. The law protects defamation defendants against suits brought to chill free speech in connection with public issues.

Two judges dissented on the supremacy clause issue. Subjecting the president to a state trial court’s jurisdiction “interferes with his ability to carry out his constitutional duty of executing the laws of the United States,” the dissent said.

Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, said he would appeal to New York’s top court, the articles reported.

Related articles:

ABAJournal.com: “Judge rules former ‘Apprentice’ contestant’s suit against Trump can proceed while he is president”

ABAJournal.com: “Trump argues supremacy clause shields him from ‘Apprentice’ contestant’s state suit while in office”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.