Recent federal criminal charges against supposed billionaire and convicted sexual offender Jeffrey Epstein open up the possibility of reviving a prior New York civil lawsuit against Donald Trump under the New York Child Victims Act.
Reports indicatethat Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in New York for allegedly sex trafficking minors in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005. According to reporting from The Daily Beast,the indictment alleges one count of sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. If convicted he could face up to 45 years in prison.
In September 2016, a woman claiming to have been raped by Donald Trump when she was a 13-year-old aspiring model filed a federal civil complaint in the Southern District of New York. The complaint, filed by the plaintiff under the pseudonym “Jane Doe,” alleged that in 1994, Jeffrey Epstein’s employee solicited her to attend a series of parties hosted by Epstein where she was forced to engage in sexual acts with adult men. She alleged that Donald Trump attended a number of these New York parties hosted by Epstein and sexually abused her as a minor on four separate occasions. The complaint and subsequent filings also alleged that Donald Trump had threatened that if Jane Doe ever revealed any of the details surrounding the alleged abuse and rape, both Jane Doe and her family would “be physically harmed if not killed.”
At the time the case was filed in 2016, New York statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse claims cut off civil claims against alleged perpetrators past a plaintiff’s 23 birthday. However, the New York Child Victims Act, which was signed into law in February of 2019, has changed the statute of limitations to provide victims of childhood sexual abuse with a one year window to file civil claims against their alleged abuser and culpable institutions, regardless of when the abuse occurred.
Jane Doe’s complaint argued that she did not file within the statute of limitations because she was under duress from the time of the alleged rape and sexual abuse to the time she filed the complaint in federal court. She argued that her time to file her civil lawsuit should have been extended (or “tolled”) because she was under duress due to the fear of retaliation on the part of Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein.
Jane Doe would have had a very minimal chance of having her claim survive on the theory of duress. Tolling of statute of limitations on grounds of duress is an inherently difficult legal argument. It is essentially a “pause button” for the filing of civil claims. Courts set a high standard for pausing a party’s obligation to file a lawsuit because the time limit to file is set by statute and generally requires everyone to “play by the same rules.” Judges have little to no discretion in extending a party’s obligation to file a timely lawsuit and are generally cautious about doing so.
In order for Jane Doe to have been able to continue her case back in 2016, she would have had to prove several things. First, she would have had to prove that the duress occurred. Second, she would have had to prove the duress continued from the date of the rape, abuse, and threats on her and her family’s life that allegedly occurred in 1994 to the date she filed her civil complaint in 2016. Her whole lawsuit would have depended on her successfully proving continued duress. Even if she was successful in proving that Donald Trump was allegedly liable for rape and sexual abuse of a minor, if she was unable to prove that she was under continued duress, all the other allegations would fail.
In review of the southern district court filings back in 2016, Jane Doe’s claim of continued duress was supported solely by her own affidavit swearing to the truth of her allegations. Without any other evidence of continued duress, Jane Doe’s 2016 lawsuit would have likely been dismissed before the court ever reached the point of allowing her other claims to be investigated.
On the other hand, Jane Doe’s claims related to rape and sexual abuse of a minor were strong. Her amended complaint included corroborating affidavits of her claims related to her allegations of sexual contact with Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein when she was a minor. One witness, using the pseudonym “Tiffany Doe,” swore that between 1991 and 2000 she worked directly for Jeffrey Epstein and that part of her duties during that time was attracting “adolescent women to attend” Epstein’s parties. Tiffany Doe swore that she personally picked up Jane Doe at the NYC port authority and both persuaded Jane Doe to attend Mr. Epstein’s parties and “personally witnessed the Plaintiff being forced to perform various sexual acts with Donald J. Trump and Mr. Epstein.” The second witness, using the pseudonym “Joan Doe” swore that during the 1994-1995 school year, Jane Doe told her that Jane Doe was subject to sexual contact with both Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein. At the time of the 2016 filings, Donald Trump and his attorneys fervently denied the allegations.
The plaintiff withdrew her complaint on November 4, 2016, shortly before Donald Trump was elected president. No explanation was given to the court for the plaintiff’s decision to withdraw her case. However, reporting at the time indicated that the plaintiff claimed to have been the subject of harassment and intimidation for having made the allegations against Donald Trump.
While Jane Doe’s case would have likely been dismissed back in 2016, New York recently passed legislation that breathes new life into Jane Doe’s claims. The New York Child Victims Act, which passed earlier this year, allows for Jane Doe’s claims relating to her 1994 allegations of rape and sexual abuse of a minor to survive WITHOUT proof of continued duress.
The Child Victims Act sets a new statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse claims AND provides a temporary “look back period” that allows all previously time-barred childhood sexual abuse claims to be “revived” for a one year period. The “look back period” extends to (1) people who filed lawsuits that were dismissed because they were filed too late, and (2) people who never filed a lawsuit, but would have been barred from doing so because the time to file had passed.
The look back period is scheduled to being on August 14, 2019. Given what the public knows about the procedural history of Jane Doe’s case against Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein, It will be very interesting to see what, if any, claims are filed against the President once the look back period begins.