(Corrects description of legal standard regarding Trump in
By Alison Frankel and Dan Levine
Oct 13 Donald Trump hasn't sued a newspaper for
libel in three decades, despite the Republican presidential
nominee repeatedly threatening to do so over the course of his
business career, according to databases of state and federal
A lawyer for the New York real estate developer demanded on
Wednesday The New York Times retract a story in which two women
accused Trump of inappropriately touching them. If the newspaper
did not comply, Trump, who says the allegations are fabricated,
would "pursue all available actions and remedies," the lawyer,
Marc Kasowitz, said in a letter.
Trump said at a rally on Thursday he was preparing a
An attorney for the Times, David McCraw, said the story was
of national importance and the paper would "welcome the
opportunity" to defend it in court.
Over the years, media outlets including the Wall Street
Journal, the Village Voice, the New York Post and Fortune
Magazine have reported receiving similar threats from Trump or
his representatives in advance of unflattering articles.
However, Trump rarely makes good on those threats, according
to a Reuters review of court dockets in the database of online
legal research service Westlaw, a unit of Thomson Reuters.
The last time he sued a news organization for libel was
apparently in 1984. Trump filed the case after the Chicago
Tribune's architecture critic called his proposed 150-story
Manhattan skyscraper an "atrocious, ugly monstrosity."
In 1985, a federal judge in Manhattan dismissed the suit,
ruling the critic had a First Amendment right to express his
opinion. The skyscraper was never built.
In the 32 years since Trump brought that suit, he has not
taken similar action against another news organization, although
he or his companies have sued at least three individuals and a
book publisher. He was successful in one of those cases.
Book author and former New York Times reporter Timothy
O'Brien defeated a Trump libel lawsuit in 2011, after Trump
underwent a grueling deposition by O'Brien's lawyers.
Trump's suit against O'Brien, which also named O'Brien's
publisher, Time Warner Book Group, alleged the author
deliberately underestimated the businessman's net worth. A New
Jersey state judge found in 2009 that Trump had not established
O'Brien's actual malice.
"OPENING UP OUR LIBEL LAWS"
Former Miss Universe contestant Sheena Monnin was hit with a
$5 million default judgment after she failed to appear for
arbitration in a case in which Trump claimed she falsely
denigrated the pageant as "rigged." The arbitration judgment was
upheld by a federal judge in Manhattan in 2013. The court record
indicates the judgment was paid in 2014.
The same year, a San Diego federal judge ruled Tarla
Makaeff, who was lead plaintiff in a class action against Trump
University, did not act with malice when she said in letters to
her bank and the Better Business Bureau that Trump University
engaged in fraudulent business practices. The judge, Gonzalo
Curiel, dismissed Trump's defamation claim.
Trump's attorneys, as well as a spokeswoman for his
campaign, did not respond to requests for comment on his libel
litigation record, including requests for information on any
suits the Reuters docket search may have missed.
U.S. courts have routinely deemed Trump a public figure in
libel lawsuits. That means he has to show not only that the
story is false, but also that the media outlet knew that it was
false or published it in "reckless disregard" for the truth.
If Trump were a private person, he would have to show the
paper was negligent in failing to learn the allegations were
false, which is a lower standard of proof.
The New York Times attorney, David McCraw, wrote that the
paper carefully vetted the allegations in the story.
CHANGING LAWS NOT EASY
Any Trump claim will be difficult because Trump's accusers
were on the record, said Jane Kirtley, a media law expert at
University of Minnesota Law School. That would bolster the
newspaper's argument that it didn't act recklessly in publishing
Trump has vowed to "open up our libel laws," if he wins the
presidency on Nov. 8, to make it easier to sue news
organizations. In reality, he would not be able to unilaterally
change the laws because they are generally governed by
individual states and court precedents.
Court records show that Trump or his businesses have
themselves been sued several times for libel or defamation. Most
of those suits, including a complaint by a former tenant of a
Trump condominium and another by a former dealer at a Trump
casino in Indiana, were dismissed.
One defamation suit against Trump survived dismissal,
however. Stock analyst Marvin Roffman sued Trump for $2 million
in federal court in Philadelphia in 1990, claiming he was fired
from his job after publicly predicting the failure of the Taj
Mahal casino in Atlantic City.
Roffman alleged Trump defamed him in critical statements to
numerous newspapers and magazines. After a federal judge refused
to toss the case, the Trump Organization settled in 1991.
An attorney for Roffman declined to comment.
(Reporting by Alison Frankel in New York and Dan Levine in San
Francisco; Editing by Amy Stevens and Ross Colvin)