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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, February 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Michael Jackson Companies Dodge Negligence Claims Over Sex Abuse Allegations

A man who accused Michael Jackson of molesting him sued the pop star’s companies claiming they failed to protect him from abuse and control the musician’s actions.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — After twice dismissing claims against Michael Jackson’s production and entertainment companies brought by a man who claims the pop star molested him, a LA County judge issued summary judgment Monday in favor of the companies.

Wade Robson sued MJJ Productions Inc. and MJJ Ventures Inc. in 2013, claiming the companies failed to protect him from molestation by Jackson, failed to control the musician’s actions and supported the professional infrastructure that facilitated Jackson's actions.

The companies argued they cannot be held liable because there was no “special relationship” between them and Robson which would create a legal duty to protect him from alleged molestation.

After Robson’s case and a related lawsuit by another accuser were dismissed in 2017 — when a state court held that the statute of limitations on the claims had expired — the state's Second Appellate District reviewed the case. The panel found the cases should be reconsidered after a California law lifted the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases, giving Robson a window to bring his claims.

The panel remanded the case to Los Angeles Superior Court, but the Jackson estate would no longer be listed as a defendant after being dismissed from the lawsuit in 2015.

In a ruling Monday, LA Superior Court Judge Mark A. Young granted MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures summary judgment on Robson’s claims of negligent supervision, negligent hiring and failure to warn.

Beckloff found Jackson commanded so much control over the entities and executives had no control over the pop star’s daily movements.

“Even when there were three additional board members appointed in 1994, they all served at the pleasure of Michael Jackson,” Young wrote. “Any attempts at discipline would be futile because defendants had no legal ability to control Jackson. The lack of control is further illustrated by the location where the abuse is alleged to have occurred --- Neverland Valley Ranch and a condominium nicknamed ‘The Hideout,’ which were owned solely by Jackson and not by the corporate defendants.”  

The judge ruled that because of the evidence in the case, the court cannot establish the companies’ legal duty to Robson.

“There is no evidence supporting plaintiff’s contention that defendants exercised control over Jackson,” Young wrote. “The evidence further demonstrates that defendants had no legal ability to control Jackson, because Jackson had complete and total ownership of the corporate defendants. Without control, there is no special relationship or duty that exists between defendants and plaintiff.”  

Vince Finaldi, an attorney for Robson said in a statement to Courthouse News he would appeal the ruling.

“If allowed to stand, the decision would set a dangerous precedent that would leave thousands of children working in the entertainment industry vulnerable to sexual abuse by persons in places of power,” said Finaldi, with the firm Manly Stewart Finaldi. “For this reason, we will be appealing it to the Court of Appeal, and to the Supreme Court if necessary. The children of our state deserve protection, and we will not stop fighting until we insure that every child is safe.”  

Jonathan Steinsapir, attorney for the Jackson estate, said in a statement he was pleased with the ruling and that Robson’s lawsuit was frivolous.

“Wade Robson has spent the last eight years pursuing frivolous claims in different lawsuits against Michael Jackson's estate and companies associated with it,” said Steinsapir, who is with Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump. “Robson has taken nearly three dozen depositions and inspected and presented hundreds of thousands of documents trying to prove his claims, yet a judge has once again ruled that Robson’s claims have no merit whatsoever, that no trial is necessary and that his latest case is dismissed.”

Jackson’s estate was also represented by Howard Weitzman, the influential attorney who died this month at the age of 81. The Los Angeles-born attorney and university lecturer was a founding partner at Kinsella Weitzman.

Robson and James Safechuck, another man who claims he was sexually abused by Jackson, appeared in the HBO 2019 documentary “Leaving Neverland” which chronicled the men's’ claims.

The Jackson estate, represented by Weitzman and Steinsapir, sued for damages and to force arbitration, saying HBO produced a “one-sided” documentary that violated a nondisparagement clause from a 1992 agreement between the parties.

This past December, the Ninth Circuit upheld a federal judge’s order to arbitrate, finding the parties’ 1992 agreement clearly contained a broad arbitration provision.

The panel said claims must be arbitrated because HBO used video from Jackson’s performances to make its allegations in the documentary and that those performances fall under the 1992 agreement.

Robson testified in Jackson’s 2005 criminal trial that the musician had never molested him and Safechuck once said the same to investigators. Jackson, who died of a drug overdose in 2009, was acquitted. 

Categories / Courts, Entertainment

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