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Johnson v. Trump

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

June 14, 2019

ALVA JOHNSON, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD J. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT, INC., DONALD J. TRUMP, in his individual capacity, Defendants.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM F. JUNG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes to the Court on a Motion to Strike Portions of Plaintiff's Complaint from Defendant Donald J. Trump (“Trump”) and Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (“DJTPI”), Dkt. 30, and a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint from DJTPI, Dkt. 32. Plaintiff has filed oppositions in response to both motions, Dkt. 38-39, to which Defendants have replied, Dkt. 43-44. The Court heard argument from all counsel on June 5, 2019.

         Plaintiff's three-count Complaint alleges battery by Defendant Trump in Count I. Dkt. 1 at 33. Plaintiff also seeks recovery against DJTPI for wage-based gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Pay Act (Count II) and race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count III). Id. at 34-36.

         As currently stated, the Complaint presents a political lawsuit, not a tort and wages lawsuit. Plaintiff will receive a fair day in court, but the Court will try a tort and wages dispute-not a political one. If Plaintiff wishes to make a political statement or bring a claim for political purposes, this is not the forum.

         The Court dismisses the Complaint without prejudice. Plaintiff may file an amended complaint within thirty days consistent with this order. In reciting the facts as alleged, the Court considers well-pled facts as true for both a motion to dismiss, Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted), and a motion to strike, DeJesus v. Cigna Corp., No. 6:17-cv-1208-ORL-41TBS, 2018 WL 375579, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 11, 2018) (citation omitted).

         AS TO COUNT ONE

         Plaintiff was a campaign worker for DJTPI during Defendant Trump's presidential election. Count I alleges that at an August 24, 2016 election rally for Defendant Trump in Tampa, Defendant Trump grabbed Plaintiff by the hand, held her hand, and then kissed her without her consent. Plaintiff further alleges that she turned her head to avoid the kiss, and Defendant kissed her on the side of her mouth. She felt humiliated by this contact and, shortly thereafter, she was disappointed because her coworkers were aware of the incident and were joking about it.

         On October 7, 2016, a recording became public in which Defendant Trump stated in part, “You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful - I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait.” Dkt. 1 at 15-16. Plaintiff heard the statement, which contained highly lascivious portions. On October 14, 2016, Plaintiff moved out of her housing with the campaign and, two days later, emailed the head of human resources for the campaign to let her know that Plaintiff was leaving the campaign. Plaintiff alleges she has suffered damages by the battery, and she seeks money damages for her injury.

         Though this simple battery appears to have lasted perhaps 10-15 seconds, Plaintiff has spent 29 pages and 115 paragraphs in the Complaint setting it forth. Many of these allegations describe 19 unrelated incidents involving women upon whom Defendant Trump allegedly committed nonconsensual acts, over the past four decades with differing circumstances.

         These 19 separate incidents, all of which Plaintiff seeks to prove through discovery and use at trial, vary in terms of age and circumstance. Most of the incidents do not resemble the present allegation; some do. For example, Plaintiff hopes to prove and introduce at trial evidence that Defendant Trump “was like an octopus” when groping one woman on a commercial flight in the early 1980s, Dkt. 1 at 23, or that 15 years before the instant claim he entered a dressing room where beauty contestants were unclothed, id. at 25-26. These allegations, salacious and in florid language, appear to come from media reports. Indeed, in attempting to set forth a cause of action for simple battery, the Complaint cites approximately 40 different media reports or newspaper articles.

         A court may strike from a pleading “any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Courts have “broad discretion” in this determination. DeJesus, 2018 WL 375579, at *2 (citations omitted). The motion's purpose is “to clean up the pleadings, streamline litigation, and avoid unnecessary forays into immaterial matters.” Slone v. Judd, No. 809-CV-1175-T-27TGW, 2009 WL 5214984, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 29, 2009) (citation omitted).

         Even if the above allegations do not constitute a “scandalous matter, ” they are nonetheless immaterial and impertinent to Plaintiff's simple battery claim. Plaintiff argues that evidence of such prior incidents will be admissible under Rule 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence to prove Defendant Trump's motive, intent, knowledge, and absence of mistake for the battery. Dkt. 38 at 3-4, 16. In other words, these prior incidents would establish Defendant's actionable state of mind because he committed such acts in the past.

         To find as Plaintiff urges would ignore the first line of that rule, which states: “Prohibited Uses. Evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(b) (emphasis in original). Defendants rightly suggest that this claim of 404(b) admissibility runs afoul of the basic admonition:

In order . . . to admit evidence under Rule 404(b), a court must be able to articulate a way in which the tendered evidence logically tends to establish or refute a material fact in issue, and that chain of logic must include no link involving ...

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