Donald Trump is one of my least favorite persons. I can’t stand to look at him. He is a rich, attention-seeking phony — in bad need of a new comb-over. And, I hope I don’t get sued by him — as Tarla Makaeff did.
Donald Trump founded Trump University, which was forced to drop the term “University” because of the obvious — it’s not a University. Trump University describes Donald Trump’s “real passion for learning” and “desire to impart business knowledge accumulated over the years.”
The so-called university’s advertisements claim it is “the next best thing to being Trump’s apprentice.” The advertisements tout his “insider success secrets,” and glowingly describe Trump’s many books — all about wealth building.
Here’s one way Trump University and Trump get rich. They charge $34,995 to enroll in the Gold Elite Program for wealth building. Our plaintiff Tarla Makaeff helped Trump build wealth. She paid the fee.
Makaeff soon became disillusioned and did what Trump would, and did do, she filed suit.
Trump University an ‘Outright Fraud’
Makaeff demanded a partial refund but was rejected, so she wrote letters and sued saying the following about Trump University: “fraudulent business practices … illegal predatory high pressure closing tactics … personal financial information fraud … illegal bait and switch … brainwashing schemes … outright fraud … grand larceny … trickery into opening credit cards … felonious teachings … criminal.” And my favorite — “neurolinguistic programming and high pressure sales tactics based on the psychology of scarcity.”
Donald apparently is thin skinned. He had Trump University sue Makaeff for defamation.
The lower court ruled for Trump University concluding that while Donald might be a public figure, the University is not. More on that in a minute, but Makaeff appealed to the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
As defamation law has developed over the years, if someone defames another, tells an untruth, they may be held legally accountable; however, if the person is a “public figure,” the defamer is not liable unless he or she made defamatory statements with “actual malice,” statements “with knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth.”
Like him or not, Donald Trump is a “public figure.” The question in this case was whether Trump University, so closely tied to Trump, is a public figure. If so, to prevail the University would have to prove Makaeff maliciously told untruths, a higher standard than negligence.
The Court of Appeals ruled against Trump University, concluding the University tied itself closely to Donald Trump, and a “public debate” existed regarding the University’s aggressively advertised educational practices.
The case was referred back to the trial court to determine whether there is clear and convincing evidence that Makaeff made her derogatory, untrue statements with actual malice. If so, she may be held accountable. If not, which is likely to be the case, she will have no liability.
One way or another, Trump will use his not unsubstantial assets to teach Tarla Makaeff a lesson. P.T. Barnum lives on.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm’s web site www.portersimon.com.