Arguing that HBO’s 2019 documentary, Leaving Neverland, violated a 27-year-old non-disparagement clause from a 1992 concert film that Michael Jackson shot during his infamous Dangerous tour, the estate of the iconic singer won a $100 million case against the cable giant.
Michael Jackson Estate Wins Appeal
According to Variety, an appeals court awarded the money to the Michael Jackson estate due to inflammatory remarks that accused the late singer of sexually abusing two young boys.
In 2019, a lower court granted the estate’s motion to take the dispute to arbitration but HBO attempted to appeal by arguing the clause was irrelevant to the present dispute and accused the Jackson estate of seeking to silence victims of sexual abuse.
Theodore Boutrous, the cable network’s attorney, also argued that the contract had expired once each side fulfilled its obligations and HBO never would have voluntarily given up its First Amendment free speech rights in perpetuity.
HBO’s appeal was not to be, as a three-judge panel comprised of Circuit Judges Richard Paez and Lawrence VanDyke and District Judge Karin Immergut of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the lower court ruling, conceding that though the suit may be “frivolous,” but it was the arbitrator’s ultimate decision.
“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.”
Furthermore, the court ruled that an arbitration clause can still bind the parties, even if the parties fully performed the contract years ago.
HBO still has the option to appeal the panel’s ruling to the full 9th Circuit, or make its argument before an arbitrator, so this issue is far from over.