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HBO Loses Motion to Move Murray Energy Suit to Federal Court


A federal court judge in West Virginia has agreed with Murray Energy (MEC) in its defamation case against Home Box Office Inc. (HBO) and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” host John Oliver to send the case to a lower state court for review. The judge rejected HBO’s motion to move the case to federal court. The case was remanded to the Circuit Court of Marshall County.

In the complaint, MEC alleged defamation stemming from a June 18 broadcast of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” MEC claims that Oliver implied Murray was a liar when he previously stated that an earthquake caused the Crandall Canyon mine collapse, which took the lives of nine employees, and insinuated that Murray disregarded the well-being of his employees. Oliver also described Murray as looking like a geriatric Dr. Evil.

In Judge Bailey’s ruling, he said, “where a defamatory statement is made about an executive of a business in his professional capacity, especially in a business setting, such a statement may be seen as defaming that executive’s business.”

He continued that Murray’s corporations are joined and should be remanded to state court. “Not only is Mr. Murray heavily interrelated with these corporations in a formal business sense, but a reasonable person who knows of Mr. Murray, especially in West Virginia or another coal state, would find it nearly impossible to separate Mr. Murray from his corporations and mines,” he added.

Bailey said the defendants did not satisfy the burden of demonstrating that removal jurisdiction is proper.

Prior to the HBO broadcast, MEC said it sent HBO two letters, on June 12 and June 16, and had a lengthy conference call with their counsel on Saturday, June 17 to correct what they knew of “their proposed false and destructive broadcast and present the facts to them.” Time Warner and HBO, according to MEC, ignored the communications and aired the episode.