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Michael Jackson estate wins appeal against HBO in ‘Leaving Neverland’ lawsuit

Michael Jackson’s estate will take HBO to arbitration over their 2019 film after the network’s two appeals against the ruling are rejected.

The estate of late pop icon Michael Jackson sued HBO for $100 million for their 2019 Leaving Neverland documentary, which claims that Jackson sexually abused the children in his care.

The Jackson estate argued that the 2019 documentary breached a 27-year-old non-disparagement clause from Jackson’s 1992 concert film of the Dangerous tour, whereas HBO argued that the clause has nothing to do with the present case and accuses the estate of attempting to silence victims of sexual abuse.

Michael Jackson
Photo: ED SOUZA

In the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday, a three-judge panel ruled that the “contract contained a broad arbitration clause that covers claims that HBO disparaged Jackson in violation of ongoing confidentiality obligations“, Variety states.

However, the estate’s motion was granted but the judges conceded that the suit may be “frivolous,” adding “we may only identify whether the parties agreed to arbitrate such claims; it is for the arbitrator to decide whether those claims are meritorious.”

So basically, the dispute between Michael Jackson’s estate and HBO will undergo a private resolution procedure where an agreed independent party will make a decision on the case after both parties have presented their arguments and evidence.

Howard Weitzman and Jonathan Steinsapir, Michael Jackson’s estate attorneys, accepted the decision with open arms saying “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 the violation of its obligations to Michael Jackson.” 

HBO had sought to avoid arbitration, with the network’s attorney, Theodore Boutrous, arguing that the 1992 contract had effectively expired. However, the judges rejected this argument.

“An arbitration clause can still bind the parties, even if the parties fully performed the contract years ago,” the judges ruled.

Although this may be a big step forward for the Michael Jackson estate, it seems that the legacy of one of the world’s most influential pop stars now rests in the hands of one quite significant arbitrator.