The D.C. Court of Appeals has declined to answer whether then-President Donald Trump was acting within the scope of his employment when he allegedly defamed writer E Jean Carroll when denying her rape claim.
Carroll sued Trump for defamation over statements he made in 2019 when he denied her claim that he raped her in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman in the 1990s.
Trump, who also denies defaming her, has argued that the Justice Department should be substituted as the defendant in the case because, at the time of his allegedly defamatory statements, he was acting in his official capacity as an employee of the federal government. Such a ruling would make the case go away, as the federal government cannot be sued for defamation.
On Thursday the D.C. Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over federal employees, returned the question to federal court in New York, where Carroll brought the suit.
"We have never adopted a rule that has determined that a certain type of conduct is per se within (or outside of) the scope of employment, and we decline to do so now," the court said.
The opinion leaves in limbo whether the case can go forward, but Carroll filed a second lawsuit in November alleging defamation and battery that is scheduled for trial April 25.
Trump has sought to delay that trial for four weeks, arguing a "cooling off" period was necessary given the publicity around Trump's recent criminal indictment on charges of falsifying business records. Carroll has opposed a delay.