Friday, July 1, 2022

Michael Jackson: Estate Wins Appeal in $100M Battle Over HBO’s ‘Leaving Neverland’


*Michael Jackson’s estate has scored a legal victory in the lawsuit over HBO’s “Leaving Neverland documentary. On Monday, an appeals court granted a win that will allow an arbitrator to decide the fate of the case. 

The decision comes over a year after HBO lost in its attempt to have the $100 million lawsuit not sent to arbitration. 

Here’s a recap of the case per Billboard:

… the estate claims that the network violated a decades-old non-disparagement deal by producing Leaving Neverland after a federal appellate court on Monday found that contract’s arbitration provision is still valid even 28 years later.

Optimum Productions and the two co-executors of the Jackson estate in February 2019 sued HBO in an effort to compel arbitration. They claim the network agreed not to besmirch Jackson in a deal for a 1992 concert film — a deal that contained an arbitration provision.

HBO described the filing as a “poorly disguised and legally barred posthumous defamation claim” and filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. A judge sided with the estate, sending the matter to arbitration, which HBO subsequently appealed. On Monday, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the lower court. 

READ MORE: Judge Sides with Michael Jackson’s Estate, Sends ‘Leaving Neverland’ Dispute to Arbitration

“An arbitration clause can still bind the parties, even if the parties fully performed the contract years ago,” wrote the trio of judges, reaffirming a lower court decision of September 2019.

As Variety reports, the late singer’s estate sued HBO for $100 million for producing the “Leaving Neverland” documentary, which focuses on allegations that Jackson had sexually abused young boys. 

In the doc, two men, James Safechuck and Wade Robson, detail the sexual abuse they allegedly endured by Jackson over the course of several years when they were young children. In a lawsuit, Jackson’s estate argued that by airing the 4-hour documentary, HBO violated a non-disparagement agreement from a 1992 concert film from the late singer’s “Dangerous” tour.

On Monday, the three-judge panel of the 9Th Circuit Court of Appeal said the suit could be “frivolous,” as HBO claims — but they will let the arbitrator decide. 

“The contract contained a broad arbitration clause that covers claims that HBO disparaged Jackson in violation of ongoing confidentiality obligations,” the panel ruled. “We may only identify whether the parties agreed to arbitrate such claims; it is for the arbitrator to decide whether those claims are meritorious.”

Jackson’s attorneys praised Monday’s ruling.

“An arbitration clause can still bind the parties, even if the parties fully performed the contract years ago,” the panel added. “The trial judge and now the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have unanimously rejected HBO’s arguments” they said. “In the court’s own words, HBO ‘agreed that it would not make any disparaging remarks concerning Jackson.’ It’s time for HBO to answer for its violation of its obligations to Michael Jackson.”

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is an entertainment reporter with over 15 years of experience working in the film industry in areas including production and post-production, marketing, distribution, and acquisitions. She has worked for legendary film producer Roger Corman, Quentin Tarantino's production team at Miramax, the late Larry Flynt, MTV/ VH1, Hallmark Channel, Paramount, Jim Henson Co., Parade Magazine, and various LA-based companies representing above-the-line talent.




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