Coal CEO’s defamation lawsuit against John Oliver is dismissed
A West Virginia judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by coal giant Murray Energy Corporation and its CEO Robert Murray against Last Week Tonight host John Oliver after the HBO show ran a segment criticizing Murray and the coal industry in general.
In a brief memo filed last week, the judge wrote that he thought lawyers for HBO and Oliver put forth "well-founded" and "appropriate" arguments to dismiss the case. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, preventing Murray and his company from re-litigating the matter in the same court. Murray Energy confirmed in a Sunday statement that it would appeal the decision to the West Virginia Supreme Court.
The suit was filed after a June 2017 episode of Last Week Tonight in which Oliver said of Murray:
He often speaks on TV in defense of coal workers, but let’s take a look at his actions shall we? Because Murray’s company recently unsuccessfully sued to block a rule aimed at reducing miners' exposure to coal dust that causes black lung, a disease which killed as many as 10,000 people between 1995 and 2005. Murray insisted that the rule was illegal, destructive and did noting for miners, er, nothing for their health. Although last year with the rule in effect, government reports indicated that respirable dust levels fell to historic lows. If you even appear to be on the same side as black lung you’re on the wrong fucking side.
Oliver continued to criticize Murray for his actions in the wake of the Crandall Canyon accident, which occurred in 2006. A clip of Murray was shown stating that the accident was due to an earthquake, but a later report from the Mine Safety and Health Administration faulted "unauthorized mining practices" and "found no evidence that a naturally occurring earthquake caused the collapse."
During the segment, Oliver explained that while his team was writing that week's script, they contacted Murray Energy for comment. The company responded by sending a "cease and desist" letter to Oliver and HBO.
“Bob Murray, I didn’t really plan for so much of this piece to be about you, but you kinda forced my hand on that one," Oliver said on his show. "And I know you’re probably going to sue me, but you know what, I stand by everything I said."
The resulting lawsuit claimed that Murray had been the victim of defamation, invasion of property, and emotional distress.
On Sunday, Murray Energy sent Ars a statement via email saying: "This decision contains absolutely no legal reasoning whatsoever, and instead blindly adopts the defendants deeply flawed arguments. This is a flagrant disregard of the law, the facts, and the substantial damages intentionally inflicted by the defendants."
In their motion to dismiss, lawyers for HBO wrote, "The fact that Murray found this speech embarrassing or disagreeable does not remove it from the broad protection of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has stated time and again that the type of speech at issue here—news and commentary about public figures and issues of public importance—‘occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.'"