(Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday won dismissal of a lawsuit in which three protesters accused him of "inciting to riot," after they were roughed up at a March 2016 campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky during Trump's White House run.
By a 3-0 vote, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the protesters did not state a valid claim under Kentucky law against Trump or his campaign, and Trump's speech was protected by the First Amendment because he did not specifically advocate violence.
Henry Brousseau, Kashiya Nwanguma and Molly Shah said they had planned a peaceful protest at the March 1, 2016 rally, in which Trump gave a roughly 35-minute speech that was interrupted several times. (here
They claimed they were assaulted, pushed and shoved, with Brousseau punched in the stomach, and unceremoniously removed after Trump repeatedly exhorted supporters to "get 'em out of here."
But in ordering the dismissal of the incitement-to-riot claim, a misdemeanor, Circuit Judge David McKeague noted that Trump said "don't hurt 'em."
McKeague said this amounted to an "express disavowal and discouragement" of violence, even if Trump wanted to quell disturbances by having protesters removed. "The notion that Trump's direction to remove a handful of disruptive protesters from among hundreds or thousands in attendance could be deemed to implicitly incite a riot is simply not plausible," McKeague wrote.
Trump and his campaign had previously won the dismissal of negligence claims, and claims that they should be liable for three Trump supporters who allegedly participated in the assaults. Those supporters were also named as defendants.
All three judges on the Cincinnati-based appeals court panel were appointed by former U.S. President George W. Bush.
Daniel Canon, a lawyer for the protesters, in an email said he "will seek further review" of Tuesday's decision, which overturned a lower court judge's refusal to dismiss the inciting-to-riot claim.
"Mr. Trump, throughout his campaign, intentionally used crowd violence to suppress dissident speech - the kind of core speech that the First Amendment traditionally protects," Canon said. "The court's opinion today gives him a free pass for that conduct."
The White House was not immediately available for comment.
Michael Carvin, a lawyer for Trump and the campaign, did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but in court papers said Trump "did not incite anyone to engage in any unlawful conduct at all."
The case is Nwanguma et al v Trump et al, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 17-6290.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Bill Berkrot)