HBO on Thursday called on an appellate court to file a lawsuit against the “Living Neverland” documentary on Michael Jackson Estate.
The estate sued HBO for 100 million, arguing that the network had broken its promise not to offend the late pop star by accusing him of sexually abusing a 27-year-old child.
The estate also argued that the subjects of the documentary – Wade Robson and James Safchak – were financially motivated to fabricate their allegations. Jackson died in 2009 and so HBO cannot sue him for defamation. Instead, the estate has applied for a non-offensive provision for a 1992 concert film deal from Jackson’s “dangerous” tour.
In September 2019, Judge George W. Jackson, on behalf of the estate, made a request for the case to be arbitrated. HBO appealed the ruling, claiming that “Neverland of Living” had nothing to do with the 1992 agreement.
Theodore Boutros, arguing on behalf of HBO, on Thursday called on a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the lower court’s ruling. He argued that Jackson Estate had filed the lawsuit as a “publicity stunt,” and that HBO could not veto Jackson and his successors’ First Amendment rights to the network.
“It’s unreasonable on his face,” Boutras argued. “There is nothing to suggest that HBO intended this.”
Arguing for the Jackson Estate, Jonathan Stinsapi replied that Jackson was the biggest star in the world at the time and that he had the opportunity to bargain for a non-discriminatory provision.
Jackson was “the subject of some ridiculous tabloid reporting,” Stansapier said. “It’s not crazy that he wants it in the contract.”
The judges were somewhat open to Bauters’ argument that the 1992 agreement was “too far” from the “Leaving Neverland” debate.
“It’s quite remote, isn’t it?” Judge Lawrence Vandike asked Stinsapier.
Vandike, however, thinks the interpretation of the agreement will be left to an arbitrator. Boutros himself requested the panel to settle the case.
“The court is responsible for interpreting the contract to see if the contract contains the real substance of the dispute.” “Consent is very important. There was no agreement to arbitrate. ”