Billionaire Leon Black cannot revive his federal lawsuit seeking to turn the tables on one of his rape accusers and her law firm, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday.
Black, the former CEO of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, has been fending off sexual abuse allegations by two women in the wake of his resignation.
The financier fired back against one of them, Russian model Guzel Ganieva, in an anti-racketeering lawsuit that also named her law firm Wigdor LLP, and Apollo’s co-founder Josh Harris and media consultant Steven Rubenstein.
U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer dismissed the case with prejudice last year.
On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit unanimously upheld that decision.
Ganieva’s lawyer Jeanne Christensen celebrated the decision in a statement.
“We are extremely pleased that today the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of Leon Black’s claims against all defendants and affirmed the decision by Judge Engelmayer of the Southern District of New York to deny Black leave to replead because it would be ‘futile,'” she wrote in a statement.
Christensen noted that Engelmayer previously found Black’s RICO suit “glaringly deficient in fundamental respects.”
“We believe Black’s claims against our law firm were baseless and filed in retaliation because we represent Guzel Ganieva in her first filed lawsuit against Black in which she alleges that Black sexually assaulted her for years and defamed her by falsely accusing her of extortion,” Christensen added. “Black’s attempt to silence Ms. Ganieva and Wigdor LLP for representing her have failed.”
Ganieva’s lawsuit remains active, but her lawyers faced a tough reception during oral arguments this week before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice David Cohen.
Black’s lawyer Michael Carlinsky argued that his client couldn’t be sued because of a “broad release” and non-disclosure agreement that Ganieva signed in October 2015 at a lunch meeting in a Four Seasons restaurant.
Ganieva’s attorney disputed that the agreement was “valid and enforceable,” asserting that her client entered it under duress. She said she feared incarceration or negative consequences for her child if she tried to oppose the billionaire.
Black’s attorneys, however, said that Ganieva received millions of dollars under that deal continuously over five years, ratifying the agreement by accepting monthly, six-figure payments.
When Judge Cohen asked whether she would nullify the agreement by returning the money, Ganieva’s lawyer wouldn’t comment. Cohen ended the hearing without a ruling.
If Black succeeds in dismissing the case, he will shake off a key source of his legal and public relations troubles from his resignation from Apollo.
Ganieva, who labeled Black a “predator” on Twitter shortly before his resignation, alleges that Black performed “sadistic sexual acts on her without her consent” and then coerced her into non-disclosure agreements and hush-money payments to buy her silence.
Black adamantly denies all of the sexual misconduct claims against him. He insists that he was in a six-year consensual relationship with Ganieva — and says that the payments were to avoid disclosures of the affair from roiling his marriage.
In public statements, Black has labeled the rape allegations as acts of extortion, sparking a defamation claim from Ganieva.
Black’s attorney Susan Estrich, from the firm Estrich Goldin LLP, doubled down on the claims in a statement.
“This procedural ruling doesn’t change the indisputable facts that Ms. Ganieva extorted Mr. Black, broke her agreement with him about their consensual affair after pocketing $9.5 million under that agreement, and then defamed Mr. Black by making demonstrably false and despicable allegations,” Estrich said. “We are confident that a review of the evidence in Mr. Black’s New York State Court suit, including the signed agreement and Ms. Ganieva’s own words, will expose her despicable claims as lies.”
A separate lawsuit, filed by a woman named Cheri Pierson in the same court, also accused Black of sexual assault inside Jeffrey Epstein’s New York townhouse.
The lawsuit amplified a scandal about Black’s relationship with Epstein. Apollo, for its part, has denied any impropriety between Black and Epstein, noting a review by the global law firm Dechert LLP cleared them of impropriety.
Derchert’s report found that Black paid Epstein $158 million for estate planning between 2012 through 2017, well after Epstein was jailed after pleading guilty to a charge of soliciting a minor for prostitution in Florida.
Black says he resigned from Apollo to spend more time with his family and focus on his health.
Read the ruling here.
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