By Jonathan Stempel and Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Britain's Prince Andrew failed to persuade a U.S. judge to dismiss Virginia Giuffre's lawsuit accusing the Duke of York of sexually abusing her when she was a teenager.
In a decision made public on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said Giuffre, 38, could pursue claims that Andrew battered her and intentionally caused her emotional distress while the late financier Jeffrey Epstein was trafficking her.
The Manhattan judge said it was premature to assess Andrew's efforts to "cast doubt" on those claims, though the 61-year-old prince could do so at a trial.
Kaplan said it was also too soon to decide whether Giuffre's 2009 civil settlement https://www.reuters.com/world/us/prince-andrew-accusers-deal-with-epstein-be-made-public-part-civil-suit-2022-01-03 with Epstein "clearly and unambiguously" shielded Andrew from her lawsuit.
The judge did not address the merits of Giuffre's claims.
Lawyers for Andrew did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
David Boies, a lawyer for Giuffre, in a statement said his client was pleased, and "looks forward to a judicial determination" of the merits of her claims.
Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth, has denied Giuffre's accusations https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/prince-andrew-is-sued-by-jeffrey-epstein-accuser-over-alleged-sexual-abuse-2021-08-09 that he forced her to have sex more than two decades ago at a London home of former Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, and abused her at two Epstein properties.
Kaplan's decision keeps the case on track for a trial that he has said could begin between September and December 2022 if no settlement were reached.
URGENCY TO SETTLE
Sarah Krissoff, a partner at Day Pitney and a former federal prosecutor, said the decision made it more likely Andrew would pursue an out-of-court settlement.
"I can't imagine that Prince Andrew wants every detailed allegation to come out in the public realm," she said. "If I were on Prince Andrew's team, I most certainly would be having a discussion with him right now about resolving this case."
In the 2009 settlement, Epstein paid Giuffre $500,000, without admitting liability, to end her Florida lawsuit accusing him of sexually abusing her when she was underage.
Giuffre's claims against Andrew have not been proven, and the prince is not accused of criminal wrongdoing.
The case and Andrew's ties to Epstein have nevertheless damaged the prince's reputation and cost him many royal duties.
Andrew's troubles grew after critics said he failed in a 2019 BBC interview https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-royals-andrew/britains-prince-andrew-categorically-denies-sex-claims-idUSKBN1XP2CX to appear sympathetic toward Epstein's abuse victims.
A spokesman for Buckingham Palace declined to comment on Kaplan’s decision.
Epstein killed himself at age 66 in a Manhattan jail cell in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
Maxwell, 60, was convicted https://www.reuters.com/world/us/maxwell-jury-resume-deliberations-after-judge-warns-omicron-risk-2021-12-29 on Dec. 29 of recruiting and grooming girls for Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 2004.
She is seeking a new trial after one juror told media, including Reuters https://www.reuters.com/world/us/some-ghislaine-maxwell-jurors-initially-doubted-accusers-juror-says-2022-01-05, that during jury deliberations he had discussed being a victim of sexual abuse.
In his 44-page decision, Kaplan said the "muddled" language in Giuffre's and Epstein's settlement agreement suggested they may have reached "something of a middle ground."
The settlement included language to "forever discharge" various people who "could have been included as a potential defendant" in Giuffre's lawsuit against Epstein.
"We do not know what, if anything, went through the parties' minds" when drafting the settlement, Kaplan wrote.
Giuffre and Andrew "have articulated at least two reasonable interpretations of the critical language," the judge continued. "The agreement therefore is ambiguous."
Settlement agreements can restrict plaintiffs like Giuffre from pursuing further litigation, even against third parties.
Kaplan also rejected Andrew's claim that letting Giuffre sue violated his due process rights under New York's constitution.
Giuffre sued Andrew last August, less than a week before the expiration of a state law giving accusers a two-year window to sue over alleged child abuse occurring long ago.
Kaplan called that window, which was extended by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, "a reasonable measure for remedying injustice to victims" of child sex abuse.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Luc Cohen in New York; additional reporting by Michael Holden in London; editing by Jonathan Oatis)