Last year, HBO released the 4-hour documentary Leaving Neverland, which told the story of two of Michael Jackson’s alleged childhood sexual abuse victims. Shortly after the film’s release, the late singer’s estate filed a $100 million lawsuit claiming the documentary broke a nearly three-decade-old non-disparagement clause. After over a year of legal battles, a court has officially sided with Jackson’s estate.
The clause in question was one HBO signed in order to release a concert film alongside Jackson’s tour for the album Dangerous, which barred the station from making critical statements about him. The judges ruled that they violated that with Leaving Neverland. According to Variety, HBO claimed that the clause was irrelevant and that Jackson’s estate was attempting to “silence victims of sexual abuse,” but a 9th Circuit Court of Appeal still upheld the estate’s win.
The judges agreed that the lawsuit was “frivolous,” but left the final decision up to an arbitrator to settle the dispute. “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 Howard Weitzman and Jonathan Steinsapir addressed the legal win in a joint statement, saying, “The trial judge and now the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have unanimously rejected HBO’s arguments. 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.”
While the ruling comes as good news to Jackson’s estate, a recent California law still allows the singer’s alleged Leaving Neverland victims to seek justice. As of January 1 of this year, a new law went into effect that raises the age limit during which victims of childhood sexual abuse can file lawsuits, taking it from age 26 to age 40. The law also extends the statute of limitations on suing a third-party entity who knew about the abuse but failed to take action.