HBO wants a California court to toss a $100 million lawsuit brought on by Michael Jackson’s estate over the Leaving Neverland documentary. In a motion for dismissal filed Friday (Aug. 16), the cable network alleged that the estate’s lawsuit violates the First Amendment.
“Plaintiffs’ claims fail because they violate the First Amendment, Due Process Clause and public policy, and in any event, the contract on which they are based is inapplicable and expired,” the motion states.
“California’s Anti-SLAPP law empowers—indeed requires—this Court to put an end to this litigation now,” the document continues. “Accordingly, the Court should strike Plaintiffs’ Petition and claims with prejudice, and award attorneys’ fees and costs to HBO pursuant to the anti-SLAPP law’s mandatory attorneys’ fees clause for prevailing defendants.”
The Jackson Estate sued HBO in February, ahead of Leaving Neverland’s March premiere. In the Emmy-nominated documentary, accusers Wade Robson and James Safechuck, claim Jackson sexually abused them when they were boys. The estate argues that the documentary breached a 1992 non-disparagement agreement between the network and Jackson, who died in 2009.
HBO’s motion maintains that the “only possible reason why Plaintiffs filed their Petition in court was to attract maximum attention to their public relations campaign against Leaving Neverland and the documentary subjects.”
In a statement to Deadline, a rep for Jackson’s estate slammed the network’s allegations. “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.”
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 19.