AG Racine Files Brief in Carroll v. Trump Arguing That Trump Acted Outside the Scope of His Employment When He Made Statements Attacking Carroll

Question Before DC Court of Appeals Hinges on Interpretation of DC Employment Law

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed a brief in Carroll v. Trump urging the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to conclude that Donald J. Trump acted outside of the scope of his employment as president when he made allegedly defamatory statements about E. Jean Carroll in 2019.

Carroll v. Trump is a defamation lawsuit concerning comments Trump made attacking Carroll after she disclosed that he had sexually assaulted her in the 1990s. In an amicus brief filed in the case, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) argues that Trump was clearly acting purely to serve his own personal motives when he made comments Carroll alleges were defamatory. The brief urges the Court to adhere to well-established precedent that, under DC law, an employee’s purely personally motivated conduct falls outside the scope of their employment. 

“Mr. Trump’s latest attempt to evade legal accountability in a defamation case filed against him should be soundly rejected,” said AG Racine. “We are urging the Court of Appeals to follow decades of precedent under DC law and rule that Mr. Trump was not acting in the interests of the United States when he made comments personally attacking Ms. Carroll.”

Carroll, a writer and former columnist, disclosed in 2019 that Trump had sexually assaulted her in the 1990s. Trump denied the assault allegation and made multiple statements to reporters attacking Carroll, saying he never met her, accusing her of making up a story to make money or advance a political agenda, and implying that she had falsely accused others of assault. In response, Carroll filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump.

Trump and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) have argued that Trump acted within the scope of his employment as president of the United States when he made those statements. That argument, if successful, would allow the United States to substitute itself for Trump as the defendant in the lawsuit, and would lead to the dismissal of the case—because, unlike Trump, the federal government cannot be sued for defamation. DC employment law governs whether Trump acted within the scope of his employment when he made the statements, and therefore whether the case can move forward. As a result, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit—where the lawsuit currently sits—referred this question about DC employment law to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

In its amicus brief supporting Carroll, OAG urges the Court to rule that Trump acted outside the scope of his employment when making his 2019 comments about Carroll because:

  • District employment law is clear: Under DC law, a simple test determines when employees act within the scope of their employment, and when their employers can be held directly liable for harm the employee has caused. Employees act within the scope of employment only when they act with a purpose to serve their employer. When an employee acts out of purely personal motives, their conduct remains outside the scope of employment and their employer is not directly liable for it.
  • Trump acted out of purely personal motives: Trump was serving his own interests—and clearly acting outside the scope of his employment under DC law—when he repeatedly made personal comments attacking Carroll’s motives, character, and appearance. He was acting to demean and tarnish the reputation of a woman who alleged he had assaulted her in his previous capacity as a private citizen, and was in no way acting to further the interests of the United States when he made the comments at issue in this case.

In the brief, OAG also argues that as a representative of residents, and as a large employer itself, the District has a strong interest in ensuring that courts accurately and reliably apply its employment laws.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.