(Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit by the owners of a Washington, D.C., wine bar who accused President Donald Trump of unfair competition for operating a nearby hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts, a married couple who have run Cork Wine Bar since 2008, claimed they lost business to the Trump International Hotel because of its association with the president and an expectation it would attract diplomats, lobbyists and politicians hoping to win his favor.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., however, found no allegations of interference by Trump or his Trump Old Post Office LLC, and said their ability to benefit from the president’s “heightened notoriety since taking office” could not support the lawsuit.
“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,” he continued. “Indeed, I would be reading the ‘unfair’ right out of ‘unfair competition.’ This I cannot do!”
According to court papers, Trump Old Post Office is owned by a revocable trust that acts for Trump’s sole benefit.
Cork’s lawsuit was one of many targeting Trump’s alleged failure to distance himself from his business empire while in the White House.
Trump has ceded day-to-day control over his businesses to his adult sons Eric and Donald Jr.
Mark Zaid, a lawyer for the wine bar, said it will appeal. “We are disappointed that Judge Leon viewed a President profiting off of his public office as legitimate business conduct,” Zaid said in an email.
Lawyers from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who represented Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Trump’s lawyers had argued that the president deserved “absolute immunity” from the lawsuit, a claim he has made in other contexts, so that he could do his job without the distraction of “virtually limitless” potential litigation.
Leon acknowledged the “constitutional questions of profound weight and import lurking” within Cork’s lawsuit, but said he could rule “without opening that Pandora’s box.”
The Trump International Hotel opened in September 2016. It is located roughly 0.7 mile southeast of the White House and 1.5 miles south of the wine bar, which is near Logan Circle.
The case is K&D LLC v Trump Old Post Office LLC et al, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, No. 17-00731.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler