Michael Jackson Estate's Request to Take HBO Disparagement Dispute to Arbitration Has Been Granted

Leaving Neverland (2019)
Leaving Neverland (2019)
Photo: HBO

It looks like the legal tussle between HBO and Michael Jackson’s estate over the highly controversial documentary Leaving Neverland, which accused Jackson of sexually abusing Wade Robson and James Safechuck when they were young boys, will be heard by an arbitrator.

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According to Variety, an appeals court has granted Jackson’s estate appeal request in regard to an ongoing suit worth $100 million. For background: The late artist’s estate sued HBO for allegedly violating a 27-year-old non-disparagement clause from Dangerous, a concert film the premium cable network aired in 1992. Last year, a federal court had denied the estate’s request to take the suit to arbitration.

Variety reports:

Last year, a lower court granted the estate’s motion to take the dispute to arbitration, as provided by the contract. HBO appealed, but on Monday a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the lower court ruling. The judges conceded that the suit may be “frivolous,” as HBO has claimed, but said it will be up to an arbitrator to make that call.

“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.”

HBO’s legal team argues that the network had never granted the estate full veto over anything they’d ever say about him and claimed that the 1992 contract had expired once both parties fulfilled their obligations.

“An arbitration clause can still bind the parties, even if the parties fully performed the contract years ago,” the circuit court’s panel of judges, consisting of Circuit Judges Richard Paez and Lawrence VanDyke and District Judge Karin Immergut, argued.

So, HBO is left with two choices—either they can appeal the circuit court’s most recent decision or head to arbitration. We’ll keep you posted on what happens next.

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.

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