John Oliver alleges lawsuit filed against his show by former Murray Energy CEO was a SLAPP suit meant to silence critique; company did not respond

In November 2019, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver released a video detailing a lawsuit filed against the show by former Murray Energy CEO, Bill Murray, and alleging that this lawsuit was a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Murray Energy to respond. Murray Energy has not responded. 


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Company non-response
3 December 2019

Murray Energy did not respond

Author: Murray Energy

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11 November 2019

John Oliver roasts litigious coal titan in epic, squirrel-filled musical number

Author: Nardine Saad, Los Angeles Times

The number came as Oliver celebrated his legal victory in the defamation lawsuit that Murray brought against him and the Emmy-winning show back in 2017... [S]ince Murray recently dropped the lawsuit, the host... used it as a timely pivot into the topic of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuits... Oliver targeted Murray in a 2017 segment that blasted his company, criticized the standards of the coal industry at large and touched on the company’s long history of threatening litigation against its critics... The coal titan then sued for defamation in 2017, shortly after the segment aired... A judge dismissed the case in 2018 after attorneys for HBO argued that Oliver’s comments were either factual — sourced from various court documents about Murray — or obviously satirical, both of which are protected by the 1st Amendment.

... [Oliver] explained that SLAPP lawsuits are ubiquitous, “frivolous suits with no legal merit, specifically designed to stifle public debate or dissent.” Oliver noted that 30 states have some form of anti-SLAPP laws but West Virginia, where Murray brought his “Last Week Tonight” lawsuit, isn’t one of them... Oliver said that when his producers reached out to Murray about Sunday’s piece, Murray responded in a letter directed to Oliver’s bosses at AT&T and HBO, arguing that none of his lawsuits are SLAPP suits... Oliver then added that we need better anti-SLAPP laws nationwide “to deter powerful people like Bob Murray from using the courts to shut down people’s legitimate dissent.”

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11 November 2019

John Oliver takes on muzzling lawsuits – and the man who sued his show

Author: Adrian Horton, The Guardian

On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver ripped into frivolous lawsuits meant to silence dissent, an issue with which he has personal experience: two years ago, Last Week Tonight was sued by Bob Murray, the then CEO of Murray Energy, the largest private coal company in America, after the show did a segment highly critical of the coal executive... The lawsuit was... dismissed by a West Virginia court... but Murray appealed the case to the West Virginia supreme court. The case languished there for over a year before Murray dropped it (Murray Energy is also... now reorganizing for bankruptcy).

... “What was the point of him putting us through all of this in the first place?” Oliver asked. “I would argue that winning the case was never really his goal.”... Slapp suits are, Oliver explained, “frivolous suits with no legal merit specifically designed to stifle public debate or dissent... “By cultivating a reputation for being aggressively litigious, Murray may have actually got what he wanted and successfully applied a chokehold to how he is covered.” Oliver pointed to two lawsuits against Murray with serious and corroborated accounts of workplace harassment and misconduct that have been suspiciously underreported in the press... “I would argue that one reason [for the silence] might be that organizations are justifiably wary of getting sued by Murray,” Oliver said, “because even if they are baseless, his lawsuits can do major damage.” The suit against Last Week Tonight cost them over $200,000 in legal fees.

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1 November 2019

'Nervous and scared.' Coal workers fear for pensions after Murray Energy bankruptcy

Author: Matt Egan, CNN Business

Tom Kacsmar worked underground at a coal mine for nearly four decades. The promise of a decent pension and healthcare for life kept him at this dangerous job... Kacsmar fears those benefits will get washed away by the bankruptcy of Murray Energy, America's largest private coal mining company... Like many of its bankrupt rivals, Murray Energy is widely expected to make the case that those benefits need to get dialed back for the company to survive. That would have far-reaching consequences because Murray Energy is the last major company contributing to the United Mine Workers of America's pension plan... Current and former Murray Energy employees told CNN Business they are bracing for cuts.

... "Although Murray has been able to outlast many of its competitors, mounting debt and legacy liability expenses have become too heavy of a burden to sustain under current industry conditions," Robert Moore, the company's incoming CEO, argued in court documents. "The company has exhausted all options and liquidity."
Murray Energy declined to comment on what will happen to worker pensions... [but] the company emphasized [in court documents] that it doesn't take this process lightly. "Murray's employees are its lifeblood and Murray has a longstanding history and valued partnership with their unions," the company said.

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