Trials & Litigation

Collateral estoppel allows jurors to skip liability issue in second Trump defamation trial

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E. Jean Carroll May 2023

Writer E. Jean Carroll walks out of Manhattan federal court in New York City on May 9. A jury has found former President Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing the advice columnist in the 1990s, awarding her $5 million. Photo by Seth Wenig/The Associated Press.

A jury considering a second defamation lawsuit against former President Donald Trump by writer E. Jean Carroll can skip the liability issue and decide on damages, a federal judge in New York City has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York said liability was already established in a separate case in May, when jurors found that Trump was liable for sexually abusing and then defaming Carroll when he denied the incident in October 2022. Jurors awarded $5 million in damages in that case.

Carroll had claimed that Trump assaulted her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the 1990s.

The pending case before Kaplan alleges that Trump defamed Carroll for denying the sexual assault in comments made in 2019, more than three years before the October 2022 denial, according to Kaplan’s Sept. 6 decision. Trump’s previous statements, like the October 2022 statement, denied Carroll’s accusation, said he didn’t know her, and claimed that she made up the accusation for improper purposes.

In one of the earlier statements, Trump said, “I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?”

The May verdict has preclusive effect in the pending suit, Kaplan said.

Kaplan cited the four conditions for collateral estoppel in New York:

  1. The issues in the first and second proceeding are identical.
  2. The issue in the prior proceeding was actually litigated and decided.
  3. There was a full and fair opportunity to litigate in the prior proceedings.
  4. The issue previously litigated was necessary to support a valid and final judgment on the merits.

In the 2019 and 2022 statements, Trump accused Carroll of lying about the sexual assault. The jury finding that Carroll did not lie in the prior case is binding in the pending case, Kaplan said. In addition, the prior jury verdict and the undisputed facts establish that the 2019 statements were made with actual malice, according to Kaplan.

A lawyer for Trump, Alina Habba, told the New York Times that she thought that the earlier verdict “will be overturned on appeal, which will render this decision moot.”

Other publications covering Kaplan’s ruling include CNN, Axios and Reuters.

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