Michael Jackson estate wins appeal in HBO Leaving Neverland lawsuit

The Michael Jackson estate has won an appeal against HBO for the network’s 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland, which accused the late singer of sexually abusing two young boys.

Suing for $100 million (£75.4m), the Jackson estate argued that Leaving Neverland violated a nearly three-decade-old non-disparagement clause from a 1992 concert film from the “Dangerous” tour, which HBO produced.

As reported by Variety, HBO countered that the clause should be considered irrelevant and accused the Jackson estate of silencing victims of sexual abuse.

In 2019, a lower court let the late pop singer’s estate take their dispute to arbitration, which HBO appealed. On Monday (14 December), a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the initial ruling.

“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.”

An attorney for HBO, Theodore Boutrous, argued that the 1992 contract had effectively expired once each side had fulfilled its obligations, an argument the three-judge court rejected.

“An arbitration clause can still bind the parties, even if the parties fully performed the contract years ago,” they said.

HBO may now make their argument before an arbitrator or appeal the panel’s ruling to the full 9th Circuit.

“The trial judge and now the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have unanimously rejected HBO’s arguments,” the Jackson estate’s attorneys, Howard Weitzman and Jonathan Steinsapir, 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.”

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