A federal judge has approved a $25 million settlement in several lawsuits against President Donald Trump’s for-profit real estate training courses.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s 31-page ruling on 31 March 2017 addressed two class-action lawsuits covering 3,700 former Trump University students, as well as a civil suit filed by New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The suits accused the university of fleecing them for thousands of dollars with promises that they would gain “real estate investment secrets” through access to instructors handpicked by Trump. A three-day seminar cost around $1,500, but “mentorship programs” cost as much as $35,000.
The extraordinary amount of recovery for Eligible Class Members — an estimated 80%, and potentially higher — is all the more exceptional when viewed in light of the risk of establishing liability at trial, the likelihood of appeal, the possibility of reversal, the complexity of conducting thousands of individual damages determinations, and the likely lengthy duration of further litigation.
However, Curiel also overruled an objection filed by attorneys one of the plaintiffs, Sherri Simpson, who sought to opt out of the settlement. He wrote:
Simpson has not shown how being allowed to opt out of the Settlement would permit her to redress any injury, including her desire for a higher damages award, ensuing from the foregone opportunity to sue Defendants separately. Rather, she has accepted the financial settlement offered by Defendants as complete redress for her injuries.
While campaigning for the presidency, Trump accused Curiel of being unable to adjudicate the case fairly because his parents emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico and also tried to conflate the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association (of which Curiel was a member) with a civic activist group, the National Council of La Raza.
However, Trump agreed to the settlement shortly after being elected in November 2016, despite prior promises not to do so. As part of the ruling, Curiel alloted $4 million toward settling Schneiderman’s 2013 lawsuit accusing Trump and the university of “engaging in persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct.”
Schneiderman said in a statement that the approval of the settlement “will provide relief – and hopefully much-needed closure” to its former students. The statement read:
Trump University’s victims waited years for compensation, while President Trump refused to settle and fought us every step of the way – until his stunning reversal last fall.
In particular, I am pleased that we were able to ensure that members of the class action settlement will receive an even higher settlement than originally anticipated.
Schneiderman, Eric T. “Statement From A.G. Schneiderman On Trump University Settlement.” Ag.ny.gov. 31 March 2017.
Schneiderman, Eric T. “A.G. Schneiderman Sues Donald Trump, Trump University & Michael Sexton For Defrauding Consumers Out Of $40 Million With Sham “University.” Ag.ny.gov. 25 August 2013.
Sonny Low, J.R. Everett and John Brown, on Behalf of Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated v. Trump University, LLC, a New York Limited Liability Company and Donald Trump. United States District Court Southern District of California. Accessed via Politico.com. 31 March 2017.
Gerstein, Josh. “Judge approves $25 million Trump University settlement.” Politico. 31 March 2017.