Michael Jackson estate wins appeal in suit over HBO's Leaving Neverland, arbitration next
The Michael Jackson estate and HBO are headed to arbitration in their legal dispute over Leaving Neverland, the 2019 documentary detailing allegations of child sex abuse against the late pop star. In a win for the estate, a federal appellate court on Monday upheld a lower court ruling that an arbitration agreement in a non-disparagement clause signed by HBO 28 years ago while collaborating with Jackson on a live concert release from his Dangerous tour is still valid.
The Jackson estate is suing HBO for $100 million for producing and distributing Leaving Neverland, which centers on Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two men who allege that Jackson sexually assaulted them when they were minors.
The estate claims that in telling Robson and Safechuck's stories, HBO violated a 1992 agreement signed for Live in Bucharest that barred the cable network from disclosing "any information relating to… [the] personal life of" Jackson, either "during or after HBO's contact" with the singer, according to court records reviewed by EW. HBO also agreed that any dispute in connection to the document's "expiration or termination" would need to be arbitrated, which the Ninth Court of Appeals is enforcing.
HBO previously argued the "continuing validity" of the agreement, which it considered "fully performed."
"An arbitration clause can still bind the parties, even if the parties fully performed the contract years ago," Monday's court memorandum reads.
The estate contends that "HBO profited off the Dangerous World Tour by airing a 'documentary' that (falsely) claims that Jackson was abusing children on the same tour, using some of the same footage also used in Live in Bucharest to make those allegations."
Monday's ruling only upholds the validity of the arbitration clause to decide whether or not the contract had expired. The memorandum concludes, "We may only identify whether the parties agreed to arbitrate such claims; it is for the arbitrator to decide whether those claims are meritorious."