Two men who allege Michael Jackson sexually abused when they were children can resume their lawsuits against companies owned by the singer, a California appeals court ruled on Friday.
The alleged victims featured in HBO’s two-part documentary, Leaving Neverland, and both claimed Jackson, who died in 2009, groomed and sexually abused them for years while they were boys. Wade Robson and James Safechuck filed their cases against MJJ Productions Inc. and MJJ Ventures Inc. in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and claimed the singer’s companies had a legal duty to protect them from the alleged abuse.
In 2017, both cases were dismissed as they had exceeded California’s statute of limitations. Although they were reopened in 2020 after a new state law gave plaintiffs in child sex abuse cases more time to file lawsuits, the cases were again dismissed when a judge ruled that the corporations had no legal obligation to protect them from Jackson.
On Friday, California’s Second District Court of Appeal disagreed, stating that “a corporation that facilitates the sexual abuse of children by one of its employees is not excused from an affirmative duty to protect those children merely because it is solely owned by the perpetrator of the abuse.”
They judges added that “it would be perverse to find no duty based on the corporate defendant having only one shareholder. And so we reverse the judgments entered for the corporations.”
Jonathan Steinsapir, a lawyer for Mr. Jackson’s estate, said they were “disappointed” after the decision.
“Two distinguished trial judges repeatedly dismissed these cases on numerous occasions over the last decade because the law required it,” Steinsapir told AP. “We remain fully confident that Michael is innocent of these allegations, which are contrary to all credible evidence and independent corroboration, and which were only first made years after Michael’s death by men motivated solely by money.”
Representatives for Jackson’s estate did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
Vince Finaldi, an attorney representing Robson and Safechuck, said in a statement that the court had overturned “incorrect rulings in these cases, which were against California law and would have set a dangerous precedent that endangered children.”
“We can’t change what happened to us,” Robson, now a father and a successful choreographer, said following the premiere screening of Leaving Neverland in 2019. “And we can’t do anything about stopping Michael. He’s dead. That’s gone. What happened, happened. The feeling is, what can we do with it now?”