USA: Murray Energy sues John Oliver for defamation after statement on company’s alleged lack of safety measures for miners

Freedom of press, Jeff Djevdet

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Article
22 August 2017

John Oliver's legal hell is the stuff of Hulk Hogan-fueled nightmares

Author: Jason Abbruzzese, Mashable (USA)

...John Oliver is being sued by Robert Murray, the head of a coal-based energy company...The case is set to go forward in West Virginia, where several of the companies technically suing Oliver are based...Murray is suing Oliver and HBO for defamation for a segment on Last Week Tonight in which the host hurled a variety of insults mixed with facts alongside claims that a mine accident that killed nine people was the result of the company's practices rather than an earthquake... 

...West Virginia has no anti-SLAPP law, a tool other states have put in place to give defendants a way to fight back against lawsuits much like this one. These legal proceedings can cost heaps of time and money, forcing weaker defendants to settle regardless of the merit of the lawsuits...

...First Amendment lawyer Ken White called the lawsuits "frivolous and vexatious." The American Civil Liberties Union noted in an Amicus Brief filed on the case arguing there's almost no substance to this lawsuit. 

Oliver's lawyers will look to get the case thrown out before it ever gets to a jury...

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Article
11 August 2017

John Oliver, HBO lose court round to coal exec Bob Murray in defamation case

Author: John Siciliano, Washington Examiner (USA)

[C]oal magnate Bob Murray...won a pair of legal victories in lawsuits against HBO comedian John Oliver and the New York Times over their portrayal of his coal business. 

A federal district court judge in West Virginia denied the newspaper's request to throw out Murray's defamation lawsuit against it. The judge also agreed with Murray that the HBO case be sent to a lower state court for review... 

...Friday's decisions were not on the merits of either case, but were more procedural in nature. Nevertheless, they demonstrate that the legal arguments that Murray is making aren't going away any time soon. 

The issue at hand is a 2007 coal mine disaster that occurred at one of Murray's mines in Utah that resulted in the deaths of nine mine workers... 

The settlement that Murray signed showed four safety violation that the Labor Department said contributed to the collapse of the mine. Yet, Murray insisted...that "this settlement is not an admission of any contribution to the...accidents."...

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Article
2 August 2017

This Coal Baron's Lawsut Against John Oliver Is Plain Nuts

Author: Jamie Lynn Crofts, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of West Virginia (USA)

...Murray, the CEO of the Ohio-based Murray Energy Corporation...has a history of suing journalists, media outlets, and activists who call out his unethical practices... 

On June 18, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”...took aim at the practices of many in the coal industry, including...Murray[.]...Murray responded by suing John Oliver and HBO for defamation over what he insists are false claims...His lawsuit also references hurt feelings over the personal insults... 

...Satire, hyperbole, offensive speech, and comedy are all protected by the First Amendment — that’s especially true with regards to speech about public figures on matters of public concern...Courts should never be used as a sword... 

Unfortunately, Murray is not the only one unleashing frivolous lawsuits to silence this kind of speech. This past February, ACLU clients...reached a successful settlement with the local landfill that sued them...for speaking up about the environmental harms that landfill was causing their community... 

Both cases demonstrate how critical free speech is to the defense of matters as important as environmental justice and workplace safety. It’s a basic constitutional principle...that you don’t get to sue media organizations because you don’t like their coverage...

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Lawsuit
1 August 2017

Brief Amicus Curiae of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia Foundation

Author: American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia Foundation

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.

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Article
22 June 2017

Republican Coal King Sues HBO Over John Oliver's Show

Author: Betsy Woodruff, Daily Beast (USA)

A Republican coal baron is suing John Oliver, HBO, Time Warner, and the writers for Oliver’s show over the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight 

The suit, filed on June 21 in the circuit court of Marshall County, West Virginia, holds 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 ripped into him. Murray runs the country’s largest privately owned coal company, Murray Energy Corporation... 

At the heart of Murray’s complaint is Oliver’s discussion of the collapse of one of his mines in Utah, which killed nine people...Murray holds the collapse actually happened because of an earthquake. The complaint says Murray directed Oliver’s team to studies supporting that argument—and that he deliberately ignored them.  

...HBO’s lawyers will likely try to get the suit moved to federal court—especially given that West Virginia coal country state courts are unlikely to sympathize with sardonic New Yorkers... 

A spokesperson for HBO, who hadn’t yet seen the full complaint, told The Daily Beast the company is confident nothing in the episode violated Murray’s rights...

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Lawsuit
21 June 2017

Complaint in the case of The Marshall County Coal Company & other v. John Oliver & other

Author: Grove, Holmstrand & Delk PLLC

[Full text of the complaint]

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