Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs tries Atlanta lawyer’s strategy to end legal woes

In an attempt to end sexual assault claims against him, music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs is using an Atlanta lawyer’s strategy that just helped Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler defeat similar claims in New York.

Combs, who has many ties to Atlanta, is fighting several lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault, including a case brought in a New York state court in November by a woman who says he drugged and sexually abused her in 1991 when she was a Syracuse University student. Joi Dickerson-Neal claimed she was also the victim of “revenge porn” created and distributed by Combs, who has denied the allegations.

Through his attorneys in the case, Combs filed a motion in late April seeking to dismiss the bulk of Dickerson-Neal’s complaint, which he described as “false, offensive, and salacious.” The motion cited an unrelated case against Tyler, who convinced a federal judge in New York to toss sexual assault claims against him, through his Atlanta attorney David Long-Daniels.

A key defense argument in both cases is that the New York laws under which the plaintiffs filed their claims do not apply retroactively to alleged conduct that occurred before the laws were enacted. Long-Daniels, who is not involved in the Combs cases, based part of Tyler’s defense on a clause of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits legislatures from passing laws that retroactively criminalize behavior.

“They essentially took the strategy we used and employed it,” Long-Daniels said of Combs’ team. “Courts generally are very loath to apply a statute retroactively, especially when it has significant impact on the rights of the accused.”

In tossing the case against Tyler, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said on April 26 that New York’s Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Act became effective in December 2000 and “does not even purport to be retroactive.” A claim arising from conduct that allegedly occurred before December 2000 would not be “legally sufficient” under that statute, Kaplan said.

The New York statute is one that Dickerson-Neal brought claims under in her case against Combs. Attorneys for Dickerson-Neal and Combs did not immediately respond to questions about their case and Kaplan’s ruling.

Dickerson-Neal alleged that she had dinner with Combs at a Harlem restaurant, where he intentionally drugged her. She claimed he then took her to a residence in New York, where he sexually assaulted and videotaped her.

In his dismissal motion, Combs said that the laws underlying Dickerson-Neal’s claims “were enacted years after the 1991 conduct alleged in the complaint, and they cannot be retroactively applied to that alleged conduct absent clear legislative intent.”

Long-Daniels, a partner in the firm Squire Patton Boggs, said Kaplan’s decision could be appealed by New Yorker Jeanne Bellino, who claimed she was sexually assaulted by Tyler in 1975, when she was 17. Bellino’s attorneys did not immediately respond to questions about her case.

Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler at an NBA game in 2020. Tyler's Atlanta-based attorney has convinced a New York judge to dismiss historic sexual assault claims against the musician. (Winslow Townson / AP)

Credit: Winslow Townson / AP

icon to expand image

Credit: Winslow Townson / AP

Both Bellino and Dickerson-Neal relied on New York laws with provisions to revive historic sex abuse claims that otherwise have expired. Some states enacted such laws after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in May 2000 part of the federal Violence Against Women Act and in the wake of the “#MeToo” movement exposing sexual abuse.

Long-Daniels said his retroactivity argument in the civil case against Tyler was “somewhat novel” in that it applied a constitutional clause typically cited in criminal cases. He said he may use the same argument in a sexual abuse case brought against Tyler in California, which remains pending.

Long-Daniels said Kaplan’s ruling in Tyler’s favor seemed to be the first time that a judge had interpreted the relevant New York statutes “as a whole” through the lens of retroactivity.

Kaplan also presided over the sexual assault and defamation cases brought against former President Donald Trump by writer E. Jean Carroll, which both went to trial. Carroll claimed under the revival provision of New York’s Adult Survivors Act that Trump assaulted her in the mid-1990s.

In Bellino’s case against Tyler, Kaplan said the Adult Survivors Act “applies only to harm caused by offenses against persons who were at least 18 years of age at the time of those offenses,” invalidating Bellino’s claims under that statute.