Robert Murray, CEO of coal corporation Murray Energy, has filed a temporary restraining order against HBO, attempting to prevent the network from rebroadcasting a June episode of Last Week Tonight in which host John Oliver criticized the coal baron for his controversial business practices. The move, as The Hollywood Reporter notes, marks another chapter in an ongoing legal battle, which HBO recently removed to federal court after beginning at the state level.
Murray Energy and several associated coal companies are suing Oliver, the writers of Last Week Tonight, HBO and Time Warner for defamation over the comedian's biting commentary in the June 18th report, which characterized Murray as a "geriatric Dr. Evil" and criticized the CEO's policies regarding employee health and safety.
HBO, in opposition papers, dismissed the motion for a temporary restraining order – and the lawsuit itself – as "merely the latest examples of Murray's ongoing campaign to use 'punitive litigation ... to chill constitutionally protected speech.'
"The lawsuit by many of the same plaintiffs against the New York Times, which has a motion to dismiss pending in these chambers, is only one of many," the statement continued. "In the past few years alone, Plaintiffs repeatedly have filed similar lawsuits against critics and members of the media, only to have them dismissed at the pleading stage. This history suggests that Plaintiffs' objective is not to prevail on the merits, but to impose a cost on those who have the temerity to criticize Murray. This temporary restraining order is a prime example of those efforts, and must be denied."
Last Week Tonight's coal-centric episode focused on the future of the industry and President Trump's campaign promises to bring coal miners back to work. The comedian also highlighted a 2007 incident in which a Murray-owned mine in Utah collapsed, killing nine workers.
Murray's suit alleged that Oliver and the other defendants "executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies." The coal baron sued for one count each of defamation, false light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Oliver predicted the lawsuit during the Last Week Tonight segment, revisiting Murray's history of suing media outlets who published unflattering pieces about his businesses.