New York: A US judge has rejected a bid by Britain’s Prince Andrew to dismiss Virginia Giuffre’s lawsuit accusing the Duke of York of sexually abusing her when she was 17 and being trafficked by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.
In a decision made public on Wednesday, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan said it was premature to consider the prince’s efforts to cast doubt on Giuffre’s claims that he battered her and intentionally caused her emotional distress, though he would be allowed to do so at a trial.
Kaplan said it was also too soon to decide whether Giuffre and Epstein intended to release people like Andrew from a 2009 settlement of Giuffre’s lawsuit against the late financier.
Lawyers for Andrew and Giuffre did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The decision clears the way for Giuffre’s case against Andrew to stay on track for a trial that Kaplan has said could begin late this year.
While the prince is not accused of criminal wrongdoing, his ties to Epstein have damaged his reputation and cost him many royal duties.
Andrew has denied Giuffre’s accusations that he forced her to have sex more than two decades ago at the London home of former Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, and abused her at two other Epstein properties.
Kaplan said the “muddled” language in Giuffre’s and Epstein’s 2009 settlement suggests that they may have arrived at “something of a middle ground” on whether Andrew or others in similar positions would be shielded from future lawsuits.
“We do not know what, if anything, went through the parties’ minds,” Kaplan wrote. “The parties have articulated at least two reasonable interpretations of the critical language. The agreement therefore is ambiguous.” Settlement agreements can restrict plaintiffs like Giuffre from pursuing further litigation, even against third parties.
“The parties have articulated at least two reasonable interpretations of the critical language,” Kaplan said in a 43-page opinion. “The agreement therefore is ambiguous. Accordingly, the determination of the meaning of the release language in the 2009 agreement must await further proceedings.”
Giuffre claims Andrew was one of several powerful men to whom Epstein “lent” her for sexual abuse as a teenager. In her complaint she described an alleged encounter in London during which Epstein, his girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell and Andrew forced an underage Giuffre to have sex. The prince has denied Giuffre’s allegations.
2019 disastrous interview
The ruling means that Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second son, will have to provide evidence demanded by Giuffre’s team if he continues to defend the case, a process that could take many months or even years. The prince stepped aside from representing the royal family publicly after a disastrous 2019 interview with the BBC in which he sought unsuccessfully to lay to rest suspicions tied to his friendship with Epstein and Maxwell.
The ruling is not a surprise, as Kaplan had expressed scepticism about Andrew’s arguments in a January 4 hearing. And he declined to delay the pretrial exchange of evidence, a sign he was thinking about allowing the suit to go forward.
Giuffre signed the $500,000 settlement with Epstein in November 2009 after suing him earlier that year. The release covers Epstein, his lawyers, employees and “any other person or entity who could have been included as a potential defendant” in her suit.
In the hearing, Kaplan questioned how Epstein could have intended that the agreement, which was to remain secret, would be used by Andrew to protect himself.
The nine-page agreement, made public on January 3, includes a requirement that the settlement amount remain confidential. The parties also agreed that the deal “should not in any way be construed as an admission by Jeffrey Epstein” that he violated any federal or state laws.