John Oliver, HBO Beat Coal Executive’s Defamation Lawsuit

The ‘Last Week Tonight’ host was within his First Amendment rights to criticize a coal baron and his company, the court found.

Days after returning from his Last Week Tonight winter hiatus, John Oliver has emerged victorious from a legal fight with the subject of one of his segments.

Robert Murray, Murray Energy and other associated coal companies sued both the network and Oliver in June, arguing the host created a “villainous” portrait of the coal baron.

The original segment criticized the company’s practices regarding the safety and health of its employees, described Murray as a “geriatric Dr. Evil” and featured a man dressed as a squirrel who proclaimed “Eat shit, Bob.” The lawsuit prompted a second segment in which Oliver told viewers about the litigation.

The case was remanded to West Virginia state court where HBO and Partially Important Productions submitted two motions asking the judge to dismiss the matter, one arguing that the challenged statements are protected by the First Amendment and another that the court lacked jurisdiction.

HBO argued Murray failed to state a claim for defamation, claiming the serious portions of the segment were based on judicial opinions and government reports while the humorous jabs at Murray’s age and appearance was satire that can’t be proven false.

Judge Jeffrey Cramer agreed, and on Wednesday sent a brief letter to the attorneys notifying them of his decision to grant dismissal.

“I find the arguments set forth in the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and Reply well-founded, appropriate in this matter and will grant the same,” writes Cramer. “The Court adopts, with little exception, Defendants’ argument in support of their Motion regarding all issues addressed in the same.”

Cramer then asked attorneys for HBO, Oliver and producers to prepare a proposed order within 20 days for the court’s review. 

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