Home – Journalism Series: USA Today Journalists Fact Check Donald Trump's Litigation History

Journalism Series: USA Today Journalists Fact Check Donald Trump's Litigation History

Posted on 06-28-2016 by Janelle Coates

Guest Written by: Ashley Mitchell

Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that Presidential-hopeful Donald Trump boasts a litigious past and present. He once sued—unsuccessfully—Julius and Edmond Trump to prevent them from using their own last name for a business venture, claiming “The defendants are South Africans whose recent entrance in the New York area utilizing the name ‘the Trump Group’ can only be viewed as a poorly veiled attempt at trading on the goodwill, reputation and financial credibility of the plaintiff.” At a Fort Worth, Texas campaign rally this past February, Trump attacked the first amendment with his vow to open up libel laws to make it easier to sue newspapers when they write negative stories. And more recently, Trump came under fire for his remarks about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is currently presiding over the class-action fraud lawsuit against Trump University. Not surprisingly, Trump’s frequent mentions of lawsuits piqued the interest of USA Today journalists Nick Penzenstadler and Susan Page who decided to dig into his history as both a plaintiff and defendant.  See how LexisNexis® Courtlink® enables fact checking by providing access to 168 million federal & state court dockets and documents.


Investigative Reporting and News Analysis Offer Answers

 Looking into legal actions initiated by or against Trump was no mean feat. Penzenstadler and the other USA Today journalists contributing to the news research had to examine court records naming Trump, as well as the more than 500 businesses Trump claimed on a personal financial disclosure filed with the Federal Election Commission. The results, published in an exclusive report in early June, found that Trump was involved in at least 3,500 legal actions in the past 30 years. What else did they discover?

  • Trump was the plaintiff in 1,900 cases, the defendant in 1,450 cases and a party in 150 bankruptcy cases
  • 1,700 of the cases were related to Trump’s casino interests, with the rest running the gamut from personal injury or real estate and contract disputes to tax compliance and brand defense.
  • Compared to the litigation history of five real-estate moguls, Trump has “been involved in more legal skirmishes than all five of the others—combined.”


So, how’d they find the details needed to put together a comprehensive view of Donald Trump’s history with federal and state courts?


Specialized Tools Speed Up News Research

After spending time looking into court cases, Penzenstadler realized that the team would need more details than were available in case summaries. Given Trump’s lengthy business history and variations in how court records are maintained in different court rooms and jurisdictions, the USA Today team did run into some dead-ends. For instance, details on cases listed on official dockets were often unavailable because case files had been archived or destroyed. As a result, any cases that could not be conclusively linked to Trump were not included in the analysis. 

In late spring, the team began using LexisNexis® Courtlink to uncover deeper background on the 3,500 cases involving Donald Trump or his companies. Searching four cases at a time, Penzenstadler and the other journalists were able to access the full text from federal and state court dockets and related documents like exhibits, clerk’s notes and more in in just a few clicks. The convenience of having a single source for information saved considerable time that would have been spent manually cross-referencing court-filed information. In addition, the team took advantage of:

  • Profiles to uncover litigation history on a company or key entities associated with Trump
  • Graphical analysis to gain insights on the nature and jurisdiction of lawsuits and types of cases.
  • Alerts to keep up with new cases based on select criteria like litigants, attorneys, judges, jurisdictions and nature of suit.
  • Tracking to receive notification of case status changes.


Penzenstadler said, “I also continue to get my daily update on any new filings with his name, which allows me to produce quick stories.” Recently, for example, Penzenstadler wrote an article covering a lawsuit over text messages. As the presumptive Republican nominee continues down the campaign trail on the way to the National Convention and beyond, one thing is certain: the team of journalists at USA Today likely won’t be the only ones exploring what having a litigious President could mean for America.

3 Ways to Apply This Information Now

  1. Check out other BizBlog posts on news research and fact checking
  2. Visit our U.S. Presidential Campaign Tracker to gain more media insights into the race to the White House.
  3. See how LexisNexis® Courtlink® works in this YouTube video.

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