A federal judge on Monday dismissed a local wine bar’s lawsuit against President Donald Trump, which accused the president and his business of “unfair competition.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in March 2017 by the owners of the Washington D.C.-based Cork Wine Bar, alleged Trump and his company violated Washington’s unfair competition law, as Trump’s association with the hotel has given it an advantage with local and international patrons and hurt Cork’s business.
“Many, if not most, people in D.C. rely on business that is somehow related to the federal government,” Cork owners Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts wrote in a March 2017 op-ed for the Hill. “You have a choice of where to dine, host an event or stay for the night. Why wouldn’t you choose the venue that would most please the president of the United States?”
“Competition from the Trump hotel is something different,” Gross and Pitts added. “The president’s name, well-known ownership and presence give the Trump International Hotel a big leg up in winning the competition of attracting diners and tourists, and hosting lucrative events where many people gather to drink and dine or even more intimate political dinners.”
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon acknowledged that though there are “constitutional questions of profound weight and import lurking within the contours of this case,” the Cork owners did not have a legal basis for alleging Trump violated the unfair competition law. The wine bar’s objection to Trump’s hotel, Leon said, “is not to a legally redressable wrong,” but rather to the “’process known as competition.’”
“To hold actionable Cork’s allegations in this case, I would be condemning a broad swath of legitimate business conduct,” Leon wrote. “I would be foreclosing all manner of prominent people — from pop singers to celebrity chefs to professional athletes — from taking equity in the companies they promote.
“Indeed, I would be reading the ‘unfair’ right out of ‘unfair competition,’” Leon continued. “This I cannot do!”
The wine bar’s lawyers vowed to appeal the ruling in a statement provided to journalist Zach Everson, saying they are “disappointed that Judge Leon viewed a president profiting off his public office as legitimate business conduct.”
“It is important to continue challenging the business activities and other nonpresidential actions that allow the president, his company and his family to unfairly profit from the office of President of the United States,” Cork attorney Scott Rome said in the statement.
Cork’s now-dismissed lawsuit is one of several that take aim at Trump’s Washington hotel and how the president may be illegally profiting from the presidency through his business ties. A lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., which accuses the president of violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution through his hotel, was most recently allowed to move forward in November.
Another emoluments lawsuit filed by 200 congressional Democrats alleges Trump violated the clause by not receiving congressional approval for foreign payments received through his business. A judge allowed the case to proceed in September, ruling the lawmakers had legal standing to sue.