Court tosses Trump U’s defamation claims
SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court on Wednesday breathed new life into a lawsuit alleging that Donald Trump’s university engages in deceptive business practices.
Tarla Makaeff, of San Diego, filed a lawsuit in 2010 alleging that Trump University failed to deliver on its promised education that cost her almost $35,000. She also complained to the Better Business Bureau and in online chat rooms.
The school filed a countersuit alleging that Makaeff’s claims were defamatory and sought dismissal of her lawsuit that seeks class-action status on behalf of thousands of students.
A lower court refused Makaeff’s request to have the defamation suit dismissed, but a unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court Wednesday. The appeals court said Trump University’s advertising blitz made it a “public figure,” which requires it to show that the former student’s accusations were purposely malicious.
The appeals court said the school’s claims of defamation fail because Trump University’s practices were widely questioned nationwide.
“We have little difficulty in concluding that a public controversy existed over Trump University’s educational and business practices when Makaeff made her statements about them,” Judge Kim Wardlaw wrote for the court. “As Donald Trump himself admits on the Trump University website, Trump University provoked public attention nearly from the outset, much of it derisive.”
Jill Martin, an attorney for Trump University, said she will request that a larger panel of the 9th Circuit reconsider the issue.
Trump University was founded as an online school and is now named Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.