Rejecting arguments that a 2009 settlement with Jeffrey Epstein absolutely shielded the royal at this stage of the litigation, a federal judge refused on Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit accusing Prince Andrew of sexually abusing a 17-year-old girl.
“In All Respects”
The ruling advances a lawsuit brought by Virginia Giuffre (née Roberts), who claims that the Duke of York sexually assaulted her in three locations: Epstein’s New York mansion and private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the London home of now-convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell.
“For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint or for a more definite statement is denied in all respects,” U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote in a 46-page opinion.
Before publicly identifying herself in court and in the press, Giuffre had sued Epstein in the Southern District of Florida as “Jane Doe 102.”
“Today’s decision by Judge Kaplan denying Prince Andrew’s effort to dismiss Virginia Giuffre’s case against him is another important step in Virginia‘s heroic and determined pursuit of justice as a survivor of sex trafficking,” Giuffre’s attorney Sigrid McCawley said in a statement.
Co-counsel David Boies wrote that Giuffre is “pleased that Prince Andrew’s motion to dismiss has been denied, and that evidence will now be taken concerning her claims against him.”
“She looks forward to a judicial determination of the merits of those claims,” he added.
In 2009, that case settled under terms that remained secret for more than a decade, until they were made public on Jan. 3 this year.
The prince’s legal team argued that the terms of the deal meant the lawsuit could not even proceed to discovery, but the judge ruled that determinations as to the significance of the deal were premature.
“Given the Court’s limited task of ruling on this motion, nothing in this opinion or previously in these proceedings properly may be construed as indicating a view with respect to the truth of the charges or countercharges or as to the intention of the parties in entering into the 2009 Agreement,” Kaplan added.
Throughout his opinion, the judge makes clear that he must assume Giuffre’s allegations as true at this stage of the litigation and assess only whether they are well-pled based on the law.
“In consequence, the law prohibits the Court from considering a this stage of the proceedings defendant’s efforts to cast doubt on the truth of Ms. Giuffe’s allegations, even though his efforts would be permissible at a trial,” the ruling states. “In similar vein and or similar reasons, it is not open to the Court now to decide, as a matter of fact, just what the parties of the release in the 2009 settlement agreement signed by Ms. Giuffre and Jeffrey Epstein actually meant.”
During recent oral arguments, the prince’s lawyer Andrew Brettler had argued that the expansive release clause protecting “other potential defendants” insulated Andrew, but the judge appeared to find that phrase inscrutable during oral arguments on Jan. 4.
“What is a ‘potential defendant’ as distinguished from a ‘defendant’?” Judge Kaplan asked Brettler at the time.
Brettler defined the phrase as “someone who could have been named as a defendant but was not.”
Appearing skeptical of that interpretation, Judge Kaplan said: “It is a word that neither you or I can find any meaning at all.”
In his ruling, Kaplan noted that he has not seen a case where the words have been interpreted as broadly as the prince hoped.
“Prince Andrew’s view of ‘Other Potential Defendants,’ on the other hand, seeks to confer rights on unnamed third parties that would be orders of magnitude broader than those contemplated in any of the Florida cases that have been brought to this Court’s attention,” he wrote.
“Not a Dog That’s Going to Hunt”
The judge also appeared to agree with arguments by Giuffre’s attorney David Boies that the 2009 agreement was Epstein’s to enforce, and it apparently did not contain a mechanism for third parties to enforce it because it was intended to be secret.
The Duke of York’s legal team advanced several other arguments in an effort to dismiss the case, claiming that the allegations of the complaint were too vague and that the New York statute under which it was filed was unconstitutional.
During oral arguments, the judge flatly told the prince’s lawyer that arguments about the level of detail in the complaint were “not a dog that’s going to hunt.” Federal complaints do not require detailed specificity, the judge said, adding that at least one of the allegations was quite specific.
“On one occasion, Prince Andrew sexually abused Plaintiff in London at Maxwell’s home,” one paragraph of the complaint against Andrew alleges. “During this encounter, Epstein, Maxwell, and Prince Andrew forced Plaintiff, a child, to have sexual intercourse with Prince Andrew against her will.”
Judge Kaplan, a Bill Clinton appointee, quipped that there is little confusion over the word “intercourse”—at least “since someone else was in the White House.”
The judge noted other allegations from the complaint were adequately detailed to survive dismissal.
“The allegation that plaintiff was forced to sit on defendant’s lap while he touched her is sufficient to state a battery claim under New York law, regardless of which part(s) of her body defendant ultimately is alleged to have touched,” the ruling states. “To state such a claim, plaintiff need allege only that there was “bodily contact, that the contact was offensive, and that the defendant intended to make the contact without the plaintiff’s consent.”
Though the Jan. 4 hearing ended without a ruling, Judge Kaplan reminded the parties that he had not ordered a stay of discovery, and they should act accordingly. Each of the parties plans to depose up to a dozen witnesses, including the prince and Giuffre. The prince also hopes to attack the lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds, claiming that Giuffre actually lives in Australia and embellished her ties to the United States in order to file her case.
Boies revealed plans to scrutinized the prince’s claim that he had a medical inability to sweat, an alibi he floated in an interview with BBC’s Newsnight.
“If Prince Andrew truly has no documents concerning his communications with Maxwell or Epstein, his travel to Florida, New York, or various locations in London, his alleged medical inability to sweat, or anything that would support the alibis he gave during his BBC interview, then continuing with discovery will not be burdensome to him at all,” Boies wrote on Dec. 30.
Prince Andrew’s attorney Andrew Brettler did not return Law&Crime’s email requesting comment.
In October, Judge Kaplan set a deadline for discovery to be completed by July 14 of this year.
Read the ruling, below:
[Photo by Christopher Furlong – WPA Pool/Getty Images.]
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