The companies controlled by Michael Jackson’s estate aren’t liable for the artist’s alleged childhood sexual abuse of choreographer Wade Robson, a California judge ruled Tuesday.
Robson sued in 2013, claiming he was sexually abused for nearly a decade by Jackson and his companies facilitated the conduct. A probate court in 2015 rejected his claim against the estate itself. That left as defendants two companies controlled by the estate, MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures.
MJJ moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Robson’s complaint wasn’t filed within the statute of limitations. Under California law, a child abuse victim has until his or her 26th birthday to file such a complaint.
“There is no dispute plaintiff brought this action well after his 26th birthday,” finds judge Mitchell Beckloff. “Today plaintiff is 35 years old; he was 30 years old when he filed this action. … [P]laintiff filed his action 4 years too late, and his action is barred by the statute of limitations.”
The court notes there is an exception to the cut-off if the entity knew or had reason to know of unlawful sexual conduct by an employee and failed to take action to avoid such conduct in the future. So, for Robson’s claim to survive, there would have needed to be “at least one material fact in dispute as to whether plaintiff’s action falls within the ‘special exception to the age 26 cutoff.'” Because Robson’s complaint alleged Jackson’s companies had control over the artist’s personal and business affairs, the estate was obligated to negate the argument.
“There is no dispute Michael Jackson was the 100 sole shareholder/owner of defendants during his lifetime,” says Beckloff. “Their authority and ability to control Michael Jackson was undermined by Michael Jackson’s complete and total ownership of the corporate defendants. Without control over Michael Jackson, the corporate defendants could not impose ‘reasonable safeguards’ or take ‘reasonable steps’ to ‘avoid acts of unlawful sexual conduct in the future’ by Michael Jackson.”
MJJ also argued summary judgment was warranted because the exception to the cut-off age of 26 would have required Robson to show that he was exposed to Jackson as part of an environment created by the companies.
“Here defendants’ relationship with Michael Jackson did not result in the exposure of plaintiff to the alleged sexual abuse,” finds Beckloff. “These facts distinguish this case from those where the sexual abuse suffered was directly related to the inherent relationship between the perpetrator and the entity such as teacher/school, scout master/scouting organization, priest/church or coach/youth sports organization.”
MJJ attorney Howard Weitzman on Wednesday sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement in response to the decision, which is posted in full below.
“The Estate of Michael Jackson believes the court made the correct decision in dismissing Wade Robson’s claim against it,” says Weitzman. “In my opinion Mr. Robson’s allegations, made twenty plus years after they supposedly occurred and years after Mr. Robson testified twice under oath — including in front of a jury — that Michael Jackson had never done anything wrong to him were always about the money rather than a search for the truth.”
Robson also sent THR a statement through his attorney Vince Finaldi. “I respect but disagree with the Court’s ruling and will be challenging it through the appellate courts,” he says. “I am determined to see this case through to a determination on the factual merits by a jury of 12.”