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Trump sued for battery by E. Jean Carroll under new NY law

E. Jean Carroll arriving at federal district court in Manhattan on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020 for an earlier suit she filed against Trump for defamation.JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NYT

Former President Donald Trump was sued for battery under a New York law that took effect Thursday, expanding his legal fight with a former Elle magazine advice columnist who claims he raped her in a dressing room in the 1990s.

E. Jean Carroll filed the complaint in Manhattan federal court, where she already has a defamation suit pending against Trump over remarks he made about her from the White House after she went public with the rape claim in 2019.

The lawsuit was filed under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which lifts the statute of limitations for one year on civil claims for sexual offenses. The suit also includes a fresh claim for defamation, because Trump repeated his comments about Carroll in a social-media post last month.

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The battery complaint revisits previously reported details from the alleged attack, which Carroll says unfolded after she and Trump ran into each other while shopping and joked about one of them trying on a bodysuit in an empty lingerie sales area.

“Roughly 27 years ago, playful banter at the luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman on Fifth Avenue in New York City took a dark turn when Defendant Donald J. Trump seized Plaintiff E. Jean Carroll, forced her up against a dressing room wall, pinned her in place with his shoulder, and raped her,” her lawyer Roberta Kaplan said in the new complaint.

The complaint adds to a growing list of legal troubles facing Trump as a embarks on a third run for the White House, including a criminal probe into his handling of classified documents and a civil fraud case against his company by the New York attorney general, among others.

Trump has vigorously denied attacking Carroll or touching her in any way. His lawyer, Alina Habba, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the new suit.

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Legal Test

The lawsuit tees up Carroll’s claim as one of the first tests of the Adult Survivors Act, which was passed by New York lawmakers in the wake of the “Me Too” movement. Kaplan said at a virtual court hearing on Nov. 21 that she wants to combine the battery suit with her current defamation case under the same judge for a proposed joint trial as soon as April.

At that hearing, Habba balked at joining the two cases and proposed moving the current defamation trial, currently set for February, to May to allow the District of Columbia’s highest local court to weigh an ongoing related appeal.

Carroll made her rape claim in a 2019 New York magazine article that detailed how Trump allegedly sexually assaulted her after they ran into each other while shopping. She then sued Trump for defamation when he publicly accused her of fabricating the attack to sell a “crummy book” she’d written and otherwise maligned her character, according to Carroll.

Trump argued, with the support of the US Justice Department, that he couldn’t be sued for comments he made while president. But the new battery lawsuit includes a fresh defamation claim based on comments Trump made on social media after leaving officer that were largely the same as those he made in 2019.

The alleged assault caused “significant pain and suffering, lasting psychological harms, loss of dignity, and invasion of her privacy,” according to the complaint.

Ongoing Appeal

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Trump delayed the defamation suit with numerous appeals and other legal maneuvers before being forced to sit for sworn testimony last month at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Trump’s lawyer said he answered all questions and had been “ready and eager” to testify. Carroll was also deposed by Trump’s lawyers.

In the new complaint, Carroll argues an Oct. 12 statement by Trump on social media, in which he repeated his allegedly defamatory remarks about her, was “consistent with other statements that Trump had made in response to other accusations of sexual assault by other women.”

The post may also undermine Trump’s current defense of the defamation claim -- that he is protected by a federal law that bars civil claims against employees of the federal government over allegations related to their job duties. That argument is already the subject of a drawn-out appeal that hasn’t yet been resolved.

The federal appeals court in September agreed with Trump that he qualified as a government employee under the federal law, known as the Westfall Act, when he made the disputed comments. But a DC appellate court must still decide whether those comments qualified as an official duty. Arguments on that question are set for Jan. 10 in Washington.

The case is Carroll v. Trump, 20-cv-07311, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).