HBO Files Motion to Dismiss Jackson Family’s $100 Million ‘Leaving Neverland’ Lawsuit on First Amendment Grounds

Hearing is set for Sep. 19

Last Updated: August 18, 2019 @ 12:36 PM

HBO filed a motion Friday to dismiss the Michael Jackson estate’s $100 million lawsuit against its “Leaving Neverland” documentary, citing the First Amendment as protection.

The documentary, released in March, details accusations by Wade Robson and James Safechuck that the late pop singer sexually abused them at his Neverland Ranch when they were minors.

The Jackson estate has angrily opposed the documentary, calling it “the kind of tabloid character assassination Michael Jackson endured in life, and now in death.” Jackson died in 2009.

“HBO’s distribution of this documentary–which recounts the personal stories of two individuals who describe in detail how, as young boys, they were sexually abused for years by Michael Jackson, arguably one of the world’s most famous public figures–constitutes protected activity under the First Amendment and California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16,” states the motion to strike, filed by HBO’s attorneys Theodore Boutrous Jr. and Daniel Petrocelli.

HBO did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment Friday.

The Jackson estate filed the lawsuit against HBO back in February on the grounds that the “Leaving Neverland” documentary had violated the terms of a non-disparagement clause that was part of an agreement the two sides had dating back to 1992, which granted HBO the right to air Jackson’s Dangerous World Tour live.

The estate reiterated that argument in a statement provided to TheWrap. “A contract doesn’t expire just because you wish it so as HBO does here. There is no expiration term in the contract, nor does it terminate as a matter of law. Likewise, the First Amendment does not protect HBO from willfully and blatantly violating its contractual obligations, as it did here. The Estate of Michael Jackson is confident that HBO’s latest attempt to avoid its contractual obligations will fail,” the estate said through its attorneys.

In Friday’s filing, HBO said that “Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate a reasonable probability of prevailing because enforcement of their contract claims would violate HBO’s First Amendment and due process rights, and violate California public policies,” and adds that “the 1992 agreement on which Plaintiffs base their claims is inapplicable to Leaving Neverland and is expired.”

A hearing date has been set for September 19, just 3 days before the Primetime Emmy Awards will air, in which “Leaving Neverland” is nominated for five awards including Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special.