New York Appellate Court Addresses Unresolved Question of Presidential Immunity, Siding with Distinguished Law Professors Represented by Ropes & Gray Litigation Team

In The News
March 15, 2019

On March 14th, the Appellate Division, First Department of the New York State Supreme Court upheld a trial court ruling in Summer Zervos v. Donald J. Trump, allowing a defamation suit brought by former “Apprentice” star Summer Zervos to proceed against President Trump. In doing so, the Appellate Division specifically rejected President Trump’s assertion that a sitting president is immune from civil lawsuits brought in state court based on a president’s unofficial conduct. Ropes & Gray, together with The Protect Democracy Project and Professor Richard Primus of the University of Michigan Law School (affiliation for identification purposes only), represents Harvard Law School professor Richard Parker, University of Texas Law School professor Lucas Powe Jr., and University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Stephen Burbank as amici curiae in the appeal. In Clinton v. Jones, a seminal U.S. Supreme Court case regarding presidential immunity, the same professors submitted an amicus brief with which the Supreme Court agreed, arguing that a sitting president is not immune from civil suits brought in federal court based on a president’s unofficial conduct. In Zervos, Ropes & Gray filed the amicus brief addressing a similar constitutional question left unresolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones, i.e., whether a sitting president is immune from civil lawsuits brought in state court based on a president’s unofficial conduct. The amicus brief takes no position as to the merits of Zervos’ allegations or claims in the lawsuit.

“This decision affirms the bedrock constitutional principle that no one in the United States is above the law, including a sitting president” said appellate and Supreme Court partner Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, who led the Ropes & Gray team, together with litigation & enforcement senior counsel Bob Fischler. Mr. Fischler added, “We are gratified that the Appellate Division agreed with our position and found that the Supremacy Clause does not deprive a state court of its authority to adjudicate claims brought against a sitting president based on his unofficial conduct.”