Two men who claim Michael Jackson sexually abused them as children can pursue their lawsuits against companies that were owned by the late singer, a California appeals court ruled Friday (Aug. 18).
Wade Robson and James Safechuck filed their cases a decade ago, claiming that Jackson’s companies (MJJ Productions Inc. and MJJ Ventures Inc.) had a legal duty to protect them from the singer’s alleged abuse.
But Jackson’s companies argued — and a lower court agreed — that they had no such obligation to Robson and Safechuck since Jackson was the sole owner of the companies and they thus lacked the power to control him.
On Friday, the California Court of Appeal for Second District overturned that decision — ruling that the corporate structure did not automatically shield the companies from liability.
“We conclude a corporation that facilitates the sexual abuse of children by one of its employees is not excused from an affirmative duty to protect those children merely because it is solely owned by the perpetrator of the abuse,” the court wrote.
“The corporations say these are ‘idiosyncratic circumstances,’ and perhaps they are. There is certainly no comparable case law to recite,” the court wrote. “But it would be perverse to find no duty based on the corporate defendant having only one shareholder.”
In a statement, Jonathan Steinsapir, lead counsel for MJJ Productions Inc. and MJJ Ventures Inc., said he and his clients were “disappointed” by the decision.
“We remain fully confident that Michael is innocent of these allegations, which are contrary to all credible evidence and independent corroboration, and which were only first made years after Michael’s death by men motivated solely by money,” Steinsapir said. “We trust that the truth will ultimately prevail with Michael’s vindication yet again. Michael Jackson himself said, ‘Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons.’
Vince Finaldi, an attorney for Robson and Safechuck, said he and his clients were “pleased but not surprised” that the court had chosen to overturn “incorrect rulings in these cases, which were against California law and would have set a dangerous precedent that endangered children throughout state and country. We eagerly look forward to a trial on the merits.”
Robson’s and Safechuck’s allegations were detailed in the 2019 HBO documentary Leaving Neverland. Safechuck claims that Jackson abused him “hundreds of times in various locations”; Robson says Jackson began molesting him in 1990, when he was seven, and continued to do so until he was 14.
Robson sued in May 2013, at the age of 30, and Safechuck followed suit a year later when he was 36. The pair argued that Jackson’s companies were negligent in failing to stop the alleged abuse, calling them “conspirators, collaborators, facilitators and alter egos” that were “specifically designed to locate, attract, lure and seduce child sexual abuse victims.”
In 2020, a trial court dismissed those claims, ruling that Jackson had “absolute legal control over the entities and everyone employed by them,” meaning those companies and their staffers had “no ability to control Jackson regarding his alleged sexual abuse of plaintiff.”
But in Friday’s decision reversing that ruling, the appeals court said Jackson’s companies were not as powerless as they had been made out to be.
“Any director, employee or other agent of defendants who knew of or suspected abuse could have done something to protect plaintiffs’ welfare: issued warnings, gone to police, confronted Jackson,” the court wrote. “Yes, the likely consequence of protecting plaintiffs would have been termination of employment or removal from the board of directors. But a director or employee’s risk of removal or termination if they acted to protect plaintiffs does not mean they could not act.”
Friday’s ruling revived Robson’s and Safechuck’s lawsuits, but it does not mean they have won the cases. The disputes will now return to a lower court for more litigation and an eventual trial, where the pair will need to prove their allegations against MJJ Productions Inc. and MJJ Ventures Inc.
Read the entire opinion here: