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Can I Sue the President for Emotional Distress?

George Simons | August 16, 2022

Summary: You can sue the President when he leaves office.

US presidents have immunity when performing their executive duties. For this reason, you can't sue a US president for emotional distress. But this doesn't necessarily mean that the President is above the law; you just can't sue them over certain things while they're still in office.

If you or your loved one has suffered great emotional distress due to the President's actions, it may be necessary to wait until the President is no longer in office to pursue legal action against them. A civil litigation attorney can evaluate your case and recommend the best legal strategy to pursue.

Like most lawsuits, government claims usually have a statute of limitations of around two years. When the statute of limitations has expired, you can't file a lawsuit against the President for emotional distress.

Can I sue the President for criminal activity?

You can file criminal cases against the President at any given time. However, civil cases may have to wait until the President's term is over.

Criminal cases involve offenses against the public, society, a particular jurisdiction where the case is filed. Examples of criminal cases include theft, assault, and murder.

On the other hand, a civil lawsuit involves behavior that causes injury to an individual or another party. Examples of civil lawsuits include defamation, negligence, personal injury, class action suits, etc.

Examples of emotional distress lawsuits against former US Presidents

In March 2015, Rep. Eric Swalwell filed an emotional distress lawsuit against former president Donald Trump. The 65-page lawsuit claimed that Trump, the 45th president of the United States, was behind the US. Capitol riots on January 6, 2021.

Another lawsuit targeting president Trump was filed by a Plymouth woman, citing 'mental anguish' caused by the former President. The plaintiff claimed that Trump had violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, causing her loss of enjoyment of life and emotional damage.

Other examples of lawsuits filed against sitting presidents include:

Nixon vs. Fitzgerald

In 1968, Earnest Fitzgerald testified before a congressional committee about the inefficiency and cost overruns in the production process of the C-5A transport plane. At the time, Fitzgerald was a civilian analyst with the United States Airforce.

A year after the testimony, he was fired from his role. The then-president Richard Nixon took responsibility for the decision to fire Mr. Fitzgerald.

In 1982, Mr. Fitzgerald filed a lawsuit against President Nixon and a host of other government officials. The lawsuit cited the conclusion made by the Civil Service Commission that the dismissal was unfair.

The US Supreme Court ruled that presidents are not immune to charges even while serving their term. However, the same Court also ruled that the President is 'entitled to absolute immunity from damages liability predicated on his official acts.'

Clinton vs. Jones

In 1997, Paula Corbin Jones filed a sexual assault lawsuit against former President Bill Clinton. The lawsuit alleged that President Clinton had sexually assaulted Jones as she served as an Arkansas state employee.

In the much-publicized lawsuit, Jones alleged that her rejection of Clinton's sexual advantages resulted in punishment by her supervisors. In his defense, President Clinton invoked his immunity as a sitting president. The judge denied the request and ordered the case halted until after Clinton's presidency. However, in another unanimous ruling, the Court concluded that the US Constitution does not grant a sitting president immunity from civil litigation unless under certain highly unusual circumstances.

Alternatives to Suing a President

It's not always easy to win a civil lawsuit against a sitting president. Although the President has a certain degree of immunity against such lawsuits, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't sue if you have a strong case.

It makes more sense to pursue other legal avenues rather than filing a lawsuit in most cases. Here are three most common legal options worth considering if you have a valid case against the President.

Negotiation

This option usually involves your attorney and the President's legal representatives. Negotiation will only occur when the plaintiff has a valid case against the President. The goal of the negotiation is to reach a settlement agreement.

Mediation

Rather than take the matter to Court, both parties may appoint a neutral mediator to help reach an agreement. Mediation helps avoid complex and time-consuming court processes. In addition, presidents usually have busy schedules, and it's unlikely that they'll appear in Court while actively serving the country. The chances are even narrower if it's a civil lawsuit.

During mediation, the mediator doesn't make decisions for the two parties. Instead, they encourage both parties to reach an agreement amicably. The parties involved in the process are in control - they can choose the venue, parties involved, and even the negotiation rules.

Arbitration

Arbitration serves the same purpose as mediation, but the main difference is that an arbitrator has more control over the process. Usually, this individual makes decisions based on certain laws. An arbitrator operates like an out-of-court judge. After listening to both parties, they'll make their final ruling. There's usually no legal path to appealing a ruling made via arbitration.

Things to Know Before Suing the President

Other than the factors discussed above, there's more you need to know about suing a sitting president.

  • No Privacy: Given that the President is a publicly-elected leader, the public will have a right to know about the lawsuit. This means you won't be able to sue the President privately.
  • Evidence: You'll need to have sufficient evidence to prove the President's wrongdoing. An experienced attorney can help review your case and determine whether you have a strong reason to proceed with the lawsuit.
  • Cost: It's also important to evaluate the costs involved in suing the President. Small claims cases can be expensive, especially if you hire an attorney to work on your case full-time.

Key Takeaways

It's difficult to sue the President, but not impossible.

Criminal cases stand a higher chance of proceeding to trial (if they meet certain requirements) than civil cases. In extraordinary circumstances, a sitting president may be required to stand trial in a criminal case.

However, suppose the lawsuit involves a civil case, citing damages such as emotional distress. In that case, chances are the plaintiff will have to wait until the President's term is over to file the lawsuit.

Have you been sued for debt?

You might not be so worries about suing the president if you, yourself, are being sued for a debt you owe. If this is the case for you, the first step to winning your case is to respond to the lawsuit with a written Answer.

You have up to 35 days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit, depending on which state you live in. SoloSuit can help you respond in less than 15 minutes.

What is SoloSuit?

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SoloSuit's Answer service is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your Answer. Upon completion, we'll have an attorney review your document and we'll file it for you.

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