HBO Leaving Neverland Case to Remain Open After Federal Judge Rejects Michael Jackson Estate Arbitration Request

Leaving Neverland - Michael Jackson, Wade Robson, Chantal Robson, Joy Robson (1990).
Photo: Dan Reed (Courtesy of HBO)

The ongoing case between HBO and Michael Jackson’s estate regarding the premiere network’s documentary Leaving Neverland has taken an interesting turn, due to a federal judge’s recent decision not to throw the case to an arbitrator, per the estate’s request.

Prior to Leaving Neverland’s premiere on March 3, the Jackson estate sued HBO, claiming a non-disparagement clause breach, in connection with their 27-year-old agreement for HBO’s televised concert airing of Dangerous. Rather than move forward with an open litigation case, the estate requested in a hearing last week to move the case to be held before the American Arbitration Association. Unfortunately for the estate, the judge rejected said motion on Tuesday.

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HBO had the case removed from state to federal court in California.

As the Hollywood Reporter notes:

From there, the parties fought a battle inside the larger legal war to resolve the question of where the dispute would be adjudicated. While the issue of forum may seem like a boring procedural issue, it has the potential of determining the entire case because if the arbitration provision is inoperable, so too likely are the confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses that provide the basis for claims by the Michael Jackson Estate.

HBO argued that under the Federal Arbitration Act, the federal judge had to decide the “gateway issues of validity and arbitrability.” Such analysis would turn, according to the network’s lawyers, on whether HBO clearly and unmistakably manifested an intent back in 1992 to have an arbitrator determine jurisdiction. HBO also brought up old rules (since amended) by the AAA with respect to the invocation of jurisdiction.

The Michael Jackson Estate framed such arguments as “classic tautology,” opining in a court brief that “it assumes the very conclusion that HBO wants an adjudicator to reach in this dispute, i.e., that there are no remaining obligations under the Agreement.”

U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu doesn’t see clear and unmistakable evidence regarding arbitration. He’s both denied motions to remand the case back to state court as well as compel arbitration.

That represents an initial win for HBO.

Leaving Neverland follows the claims of James Safechuck and Wade Robson regarding Michael Jackson’s alleged sex abuse.

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Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.