Donald J. Trump and his now-defunct real-estate university lost another legal attempt to block former students from suing as a group in a California case accusing the Republican presidential candidate of fraud.
Trump University is accused of cheating students by persuading them to pay tens of thousands of dollars for real-estate seminars that turned out to be “infomercials” for buying more classes. The former students also claim workshops were led by instructors who hadn’t been “hand-picked” by Trump as promised.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego on Monday rejected Trump’s argument that one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, Sonny Low, wasn’t actually concerned with whether Trump University was an accredited institution. One of the key claims in the class-action suit is that the students had relied on their belief that the school was accredited when they paid to attend.
The former students from California, New York and Florida seek compensation under consumer-fraud and elder-abuse laws. The case has dogged Trump as he battles Democrat Hillary Clinton ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, while Curiel’s Mexican heritage earlier prompted Trump to say that negative rulings in the case were retribution for his pledge to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Curiel has scheduled a trial in the case for Nov. 28.
Curiel said the billionaire’s lawyers were relying on a “selective interpretation” of Low’s deposition, in which the former student said that accreditation “was not even a consideration for me,” according to the ruling. “I went there because it was Trump University, that he created.”
The judge pointed to other portions of the deposition that suggested the former student believed Trump University was legitimate due to its association with Trump, regardless of whether it was accredited. “Besides being a multi-billionaire in real estate, he set up Trump University, which I would presume that he took all the steps necessary to set up a proper institution that he could call a university, with his name next to it,” Low said in the deposition.
Trump’s lawyer in the case, Daniel Petrocelli, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment on the ruling.
Trump University’s lawyers have argued that sales pitches touting “secrets” and “hand-picked instructors” are mere “puffery” common to advertising, and that they can’t be used to argue there was fraud. Trump also believed the students were receiving a high-quality education, the defense has said, while arguing there was no intent to defraud anyone.
Trump is also asking Curiel to undo class-action status in a second Trump University class action in San Diego in which the Republican presidential nominee is accused of racketeering.
The consumer fraud case is Low v. Trump University LLC, 10-cv-00940, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego). The racketeering case is Cohen v. Trump, 13-cv-02519, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego).
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