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28 Aug 2017

Murray Energy lawsuit (re John Oliver’s alleged defamatory TV sketch, USA)

On 21 June 2017, Murray Energy and its CEO Robert Murray brought a civil action for defamation against TV comedian John Oliver – along with HBO, Time Warner, and writers for the show “Last Week Tonight”. The suit claims that Oliver and his team “executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies” by airing an episode that criticised Murray’s business practices, saying his company doesn’t do enough to protect miners’ safety.

Murray Energy filed the lawsuit in the circuit court of Marshall County, West Virginia, USA. At the heart of the complaint was Oliver’s discussion of the collapse of one of Murray’s mines in Utah, which killed nine people. Oliver said on the show that a government report had concluded that the collapse happened because of unauthorized mining practices. Oliver also criticised Murray with more creative language, calling him a “geriatric Dr. Evil,” referencing complaints Murray has received from his miners. 

On 1 August, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Oliver. On 11 August, a federal district court judge agreed with Murray that the caseshould be sent to a lower state court for review.

In February 2018, a West Virginia judge dismissed the defamation lawsuit against John Oliver and HBO.  Murray Energy intends to appeal the decision.


- Coal tycoon's defamation lawsuit against John Oliver dismissed by judge, Maya Oppenheim, The Independent (UK), 24 Feb 2018
- John Oliver, HBO lose court round to coal exec Bob Murray in defamation case, John Siciliano, Washington Examiner (USA), 11 Aug 2017
- Republican Coal King Sues HBO Over John Oliver's Show, Betsy Woodruff, Daily Beast (USA), 22 Jun 2017

- Complaint in the case of The Marshall County Coal Company & other v. John Oliver & other, Grove, Holmstrand & Delk PLLC, 1 Aug 2017

American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia:
- Full text of the Brief Amicus Curiae of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia Foundation in Opposition to the Plaintiffs' Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and in Support of Dismissal and Rule 11 Sanctions, 11 Aug 2017