Trump Beats Wine Bar's Suit Over Competition From His Hotel

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump defeated a lawsuit by a Washington wine bar that alleged that the opening of his Trump International Hotel in 2016 decimated its business by luring foreigners, fundraisers and lobbyists away from the bar.

Cork Wine Bar alleged that it lost customers because they felt compelled to drink, eat and hold events at the president’s hotel, which is located about 1 1/2 miles away. Trump had argued that he can’t be sued while serving as president and is protected by the U.S. Constitution from claims under the District of Columbia’s unfair-competition law.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon in Washington threw out the case on Monday, saying the bar didn’t show how Trump interfered with or hindered its business. The judge said that while Cork may claim that Trump and the hotel were trying to take advantage of competitive benefits of the president’s "heightened notoriety," that is not "legally redressable wrong."

"To hold actionable Cork’s allegations in this case, I would be condemning a broad swath of legitimate business conduct," Leon wrote in his decision. "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.’ This I cannot do!"

The hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue has been one of the few bright spots in Trump’s sprawling business empire, which includes a money-losing golf course in Scotland and a growing list of buildings that have ended their association with Trump.

Trump’s hotel in Washington has been a magnet for influence-peddlers and favor-seekers wishing to ingratiate themselves with a president who often dines at his namesake hotel. For example, earlier this year T-Mobile US Inc. Chief Executive Officer John Legere stayed at the hotel when in town on a mission to persuade Trump’s administration to approve his company’s pending purchase of Sprint Corp. Republican campaigns have spent millions at Trump properties since he took office in January 2017, and the hotel lobby’s bar has become a see-and-be-seen place among Washington’s right-leaning strivers.

Cork is owned by political activist Khalid Pitts and former civil-rights lawyer Diane Gross. The bar claimed any benefits flowing from the hotel to Trump places the president in violation of the federal General Services Administration lease for the premises, constructed within the city’s historic old post office. Leon also rejected that argument.

The case is K&D LLC t/a Cork v Trump Old Post Office, 17-cv-731, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.