In a potential win for Michael Jackson’s estate, a federal judge ruled tentatively today to allow the estate to take HBO to arbitration over the documentary Leaving Neverland, according to Variety.
Judge George Wu denied HBO’s request for dismissal, giving hope to the Jackson estate that their request for a public arbitration of the case could be granted. Judge Wu is expected to make an official ruling about how the case will move forward by the end of this month.
The Jackson estate filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO in February, per Variety, shortly before the four-hour documentary aired on the channel and its streaming services, detailing new accusations against the pop star for child molestation.
Jackson’s family has consistently denied the claims that he abused anyone, with his daughter, Paris, taking to social media to call out haters like 50 Cent who kept dragging her father’s name through the mud.
The suit against HBO states that the production house “violated a non-disparagement agreement from a 1992 concert film from Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ tour,” according to Variety. The estate went with this potential legal action because a defamation suit can’t be brought forth for someone who is deceased.
HBO’s lawyers have argued against using a contract that is 26-years-old, stating the scope of the suit is too broad. They have also argued that the terms of the contract have been fulfilled — HBO has never again aired the footage in question. HBO also states that using the previous contract in such a ruling would be detrimental to victims everywhere.
Previously, HBO’s lawyers filed an anti-SLAPP motion, which “discourages frivolous litigation intended to chill speech on issues of public interest,” Variety reported. Although Judge Wu encouraged the filing of this motion, he eventually dismissed it, ruling that the statute “does not apply to requests for arbitration.”
For his part, Judge Wu stated that there were legal issues in the case that were “close calls,” and that his ruling would likely be appealed. However, he also stated that in a case of two “titans” going against each other, it was going to be a long and difficult battle.
John Branca, a co-executor of the Jackson estate, questioned why HBO is fighting so hard to avoid a public arbitration. Meanwhile, Bryan J. Freedman, an attorney for the estate, has slammed HBO for “hiding behind ‘procedural technicalities’,” according to the report.
Freedman stated that if HBO “believes its actions were proper, then there is no reason for them to hide.”
A spokesperson for HBO stated they were waiting for the judge’s final decision before commenting.
Recently, Leaving Neverland won a Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special, after having been nominated for four separate awards. The Jackson estate slammed the win, calling it a “farce.”