US judge rejects Prince Andrew’s bid to dismiss sex abuse case
Virginia Giuffre’s lawsuit against the Duke of York stays on track for a trial that could begin later in 2022
New York — Britain’s Prince Andrew failed to persuade a US judge to dismiss Virginia Giuffre’s lawsuit accusing the Duke of York of sexually abusing her when she was a teenager.
In a decision made public on Wednesday, US district judge Lewis Kaplan said Giuffre could pursue claims that Prince Andrew battered her and intentionally caused her emotional distress while the late financier Jeffrey Epstein was trafficking her.
The Manhattan judge said it was premature to assess Prince Andrew’s efforts to “cast doubt” on those claims, though the 61-year-old prince could do so at a trial.
Kaplan said it was also too soon to decide whether Giuffre’s 2009 civil settlement with Epstein “clearly and unambiguously” shielded the British royal from being sued by Giuffre.
The judge did not address the merits of Giuffre’s claims.
Lawyers for Prince Andrew and Giuffre did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth, has denied Giuffre’s accusations that he forced her to have sex more than two decades ago at a London home of former Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, and abused her at two Epstein properties.
In the 2009 settlement, Epstein paid Giuffre $500,000, without admitting liability, to end her Florida lawsuit accusing him of sexually abusing her when she was underage.
Kaplan’s decision keeps Giuffre’s case against Prince Andrew on track for a trial that Kaplan has said could begin between September and December 2022 if no settlement is reached.
While the claims have not been proven and the prince is not accused of criminal wrongdoing, his ties to Epstein have damaged his reputation and cost him many royal duties.
His troubles grew after critics said he failed in a 2019 BBC interview to appear sympathetic towards Epstein’s victims.
A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace declined to comment on Kaplan’s decision.
Epstein killed himself at age 66 in a Manhattan jail cell in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
Maxwell, 60, was convicted on December 29 of recruiting and grooming girls for Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 2004.
She is seeking a new trial after one juror told media that during jury deliberations he had discussed being a victim of sexual abuse.
In his 44-page decision, Kaplan said the “muddled” language in Giuffre’s and Epstein’s 2009 settlement agreement suggested that they may have reached “something of a middle ground” on shielding others from future lawsuits.
The settlement included language to “forever discharge” various people who “could have been included as a potential defendant” in Giuffre’s lawsuit against Epstein.
“We do not know what, if anything, went through the parties’ minds” when drafting the settlement, Kaplan wrote.
Giuffre and Prince Andrew “have articulated at least two reasonable interpretations of the critical language”, the judge continued. “The agreement therefore is ambiguous.”
Settlement agreements can restrict plaintiffs such as Giuffre from pursuing further litigation, even against third parties.
Kaplan also rejected Prince Andrew’s claim that letting Giuffre sue violated his due process rights under New York’s constitution.
Giuffre sued the royal last August, less than a week before the expiration of a state law giving accusers a two-year window to bring claims over alleged child abuse occurring long ago.
Kaplan called that window, which was extended by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, “a reasonable measure for remedying injustice to victims” of child sex abuse.
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