Judge Tosses Trump’s Lawsuit ‘Manifesto’ Against Hillary Clinton in Gloriously Brutal Thrashing: ‘No Merit’ and ‘Inadequate in Nearly Every Aspect’
Former President Donald Trump has quite the reputation for legal troubles, but a ruling from a federal judge in Florida might just be the cherry on the sundae of awkward Trump attorney anecdotes — and create new problems for a member of his legal team.
Trump and his companies have been entangled in so many lawsuits, getting sued for everything from alleged sexual assault to the financial implosion of his Atlantic City casinos, that Wikipedia has an entire page titled “List of lawsuits involving Donald Trump.”
The ex-president lost over 60 lawsuits just in his flailing attempts to challenge the 2020 election; the one case in which he did score a minor victory merely blocked the Pennsylvania Secretary of State from extending the period for provisional ballots to be remedied, an issue affecting only a small number of ballots that would never have changed the result. He’s publicly struggled to assemble a top-notch legal team to defend him in the wake of the FBI search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, and the attorneys he did manage to get have flubbed numerous pleadings, leading to an oddly humiliating docket with repeated instances of the court sending them instructions on how to manage basic federal forms.
As an escaped lawyer myself, this ruling from Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, was a seemingly endless parade of amusements to read through — and more than one moment to shudder at the thought about how my supervising partners might have reacted if I had ever received such a vicious scolding in written judicial opinion.
The case at issue was an absolutely bonkers, wildly sprawling complaint filed in March 2022 against a long list of defendants including Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, former CIA head James Comey, former FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, various other Democratic politicians and attorneys, making the dramatic allegation that “the Defendants, blinded by political ambition, orchestrated a malicious conspiracy to disseminate patently false and injurious information about Donald J. Trump and his campaign, all in the hopes of destroying his life, his political career and rigging the 2016 Presidential Election in favor of Hillary Clinton.”
The sixteen counts in the 100-plus page complaint included claims for RICO violations, obstruction of justice, theft of trade secrets, conspiracy, wire fraud, and so on. Of note: one of the attorneys representing Trump in this case is Alina Habba, who is also assisting with his response to the Mar-a-Lago search.
In an order entered Thursday, Middlebrooks tossed the entire case out of court, granting the defendants’ motions to dismiss with prejudice, meaning the case cannot be amended or filed again.
The judge repeatedly took issue with the fact that Trump had failed to correct major flaws in the lawsuit in an Amended Complaint his lawyers were given leave to file, even though they had added about 100 more pages. From just the third paragraph of his ruling, Middlebrooks eviscerates the entire case and even the lawyers’ writing prowess:
Plaintiff’s theory of this case, set forth over 527 paragraphs in the first 118 pages of the Amended Complaint, is difficult to summarize in a concise and cohesive manner. It was certainly not presented that way. Nevertheless, I will attempt to distill it here.
Middlebrooks then proceeded to shred Trump’s case in brutally painstaking fashion over a 65-page ruling, noting that he agreed with the defendants’ argument that the complaint was nothing more than “a series of disconnected political disputes that [Trump] has alchemized into a sweeping conspiracy among the many individuals Plaintiff believes to have aggrieved him” and consisted of nothing more than “hopelessly stale” claims barred by applicable statutes of limitations or that failed to meet the required legal elements.
Middlebrooks quoted the defendants’ motion to dismiss — “Whatever the utilities of [the Amended Complaint] as a fundraising tool, a press release, or a list of political grievances, it has no merit as a lawsuit.” — and added, “I agree.”
The opinion goes on to criticize the selection of such a long list of defendants (including dozens of unknown and fictitious entities) and “the audacity of Plaintiff’s legal theories and the manner in which they clearly contravene binding case law.”
The events alleged in Trump’s Amended Complaint, wrote Middlebrooks, were “implausible” and lacked “any specific allegations which might provide factual support for the conclusions reached.”
“What the Amended Complaint lacks in substance and legal support it seeks to substitute with length, hyperbole, and the settling of scores and grievances,” the judge added, blasting the “293 footnotes” as failing to satisfy the federal civil procedure rules requiring references to be “presented in good faith and with evidentiary support.”
“Unfortunately, that is not the case here.”
The Amended Complaint is “inadequate in nearly every aspect,” Middlebrooks concluded, writing that Trump’s lawyers had “failed to cure any of the deficiencies” of the original complaint, and instead had just “added eighty new pages of largely irrelevant allegations that did nothing to salvage the legal sufficiency of [Trump’s] claims”:
The inadequacies with Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint are not “merely issues of technical pleading,” as Plaintiff contends, but fatal substantive defects that preclude Plaintiff from proceeding under any of the theories he has presented. At its core, the problem with Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is that Plaintiff is not attempting to seek redress for any legal harm; instead, he is seeking to flaunt a two-hundred-page political manifesto outlining his grievances against those that have opposed him, and this Court is not the appropriate forum.
New York Times legal reporter Charlie Savage tweeted multiple sections of the opinion, noting that he was “hard-pressed to recall ever reading a judicial opinion that is more scourging than how the judge wrapped up his dismissal of Trump’s lawsuit,” and comparing it to the “I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul” scene from Billy Madison, the Adam Sandler movie that has become a popular meme responding to someone making a truly idiotic comment.
I am hard-pressed to recall ever reading a judicial opinion that is more scourging than how the judge wrapped up his dismissal of Trump’s lawsuit. It’s like the “I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul” clip from “Billy Madison.” pic.twitter.com/bb8RqoxKYD
— Charlie Savage (@charlie_savage) September 9, 2022
The case may end up being more of a problem for Habba and her co-counsel, Michael Madaio, Peter Ticktin, James Alan Sasson, and Shaina Vanmehren, than just inviting mockery. As Savage noted, the judge indicated on page 6 of the ruling that he was open to a motion for sanctions against the attorneys for filing the case:
In presenting a pleading, an attorney certifies that it is not being presented for any improper purpose; that the claims are warranted under the law; and that the factual contentions have evidentiary support. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. By filing the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff’s lawyers certified to the Court that, to the best of their knowledge, “the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law,” and that “the factual contentions have evidentiary support[.]” Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(2). I have serious doubts about whether that standard is met here.
To further drive home the point, Middlebrooks added one final line immediately before his signature stating, “I reserve jurisdiction to adjudicate issues pertaining to sanctions,” essentially tossing the entire case out of court except for the issue of imposing sanctions on Trump’s attorneys.
The judge need not wait for Clinton or any of the other defendants to file a motion for sanctions; the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure give the court the power to initiate such proceedings on its own, resulting in monetary sanctions potentially being imposed against these attorneys and their law firms.
Read the full opinion below:
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.