An appeals court has revived two lawsuits accusing Michael Jackson of child sexual abuse, after California extended the statute of limitations.
The suits were filed by James Safechuck and Wade Robson, the two men whose claims were the subject of the 2019 HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland.” In a ruling on Friday, a three-judge panel of California’s 2nd Appellate District reversed two rulings dismissing their lawsuits against Jackson’s companies, MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures Inc.
“We’re glad the appellate court recognized the very strong protection that California has for kids, and we look forward to litigating these cases to trial,” said Vince Finaldi, attorney for the plaintiffs.
Robson sued in 2013, and Safechuck sued in 2014. The trial court dismissed both cases because California law required that such cases be filed before the accuser’s 26th birthday. But in October, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law extending the deadline to age 40. The law took effect on Wednesday.
The appeals court heard argument on the case in November, and the court issued a tentative ruling indicating that it would revive the suits in light of the new law. The court made the ruling final on Friday.
The attorney for Jackson’s companies, Howard Weitzman, said in a statement on Friday that the lawsuits “absurdly claim that Michael’s employees are somehow responsible for sexual abuse that never happened.”
“The ruling was the result of a change in the law signed by Governor Newsom that extends the time for genuine victims to file claims,” Weitzman said. “The Court of Appeal specifically did not address the truth of these false allegations, and we are confident that both lawsuits will be dismissed and that Michael Jackson will be vindicated once again.”
The two men had also sued Jackson’s estate. The claims against the estate were also dismissed on statute of limitations grounds, and they were not revived by the appellate ruling. Jackson died in 2009, and the change in state law did not affect the window for filing sex abuse claims in probate court.
Finaldi argued that it is appropriate to go after the two loan-out companies because “they actually employed all these people that surrounded him that enabled and facilitated this abuse.”
The Jackson estate is also suing HBO in federal court for allegedly breaching a 1992 non-disparagement agreement by airing the documentary. The trial judge granted the estate’s motion to take the dispute to arbitration, but HBO has appealed that ruling, arguing that the estate is seeking to thwart its First Amendment right to air claims of child sexual abuse.