HBO Keeps Fighting for John Oliver in Coal Baron Lawsuit

By George Khoury, Esq. on September 27, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The coal baron defamation case against HBO and John Oliver over a segment that aired on the comedy news show continues to be actively litigated. This time though, HBO is asking the court to decline hearing the case in Virginia, despite a federal court order sending the case to state court.

HBO's request makes arguments under the constitution and the state's long-arm statute. Long-arm statutes are basically laws that govern when a state court can cause a party in another state to be hailed into their court. If successful, the coal baron may need to refile his case in HBO's home state, or where the show is located, potentially, back in federal court.

Litigation Isn't Funny

The segment on coal that John Oliver ran on his late night comedy news show clearly upset Robert Murray. Murray contends that the segment was an act of character assassination and defamation.

Unfortunately for Murray, proving the case may be more difficult than for an ordinary person. Defamation cases for individuals who are not public figures generally have a lower burden of proof than for individuals who are public figures.

Typically being the head of a company does not make a person a public figure. But, if the person steps into the public as public figure for the company, that person may become one for purposes of a defamation claim.

Truth and Litigation

While truth may be a defense to defamation claims, and actual malice may be an insurmountable standard for Murray, there are other potentially viable claims. He asserted that nothing has stressed him more than Oliver's "attacks," and that those attacks were character assassination.

Murray has alleged claims for false light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. These claims essentially seek to hold HBO liable for disclosing private facts about Murray and/or intentionally causing him emotional stress by running the segment ridiculing him. Murray's allegations are supported by the fact that the segment absolutely skewers him, and compares him to pop culture targets of ridicule, such as Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies.

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