Sexual-Abuse Suits Against Jackson’s Corporations Revived
Court of Appeal Rejects Proposition That Entities Solely Owned by Jackson Were Powerless to Control Jackson
By a MetNews Staff Writer
In this 2005 file photo, Michael Jackson arrives at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse for his child molestation trial in Santa Maria.
Two corporations formed by the late entertainer Michael Jackson cannot escape liability to plaintiffs who allege that Jackson sexually molested them as children on the ground that those entities had no way to control their sole owner’s conduct.
Acting Presiding Justice Elizabeth A. Grimes of Div. Eight wrote:
“[W]e conclude 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. The corporations say these are “idiosyncratic circumstances,” and perhaps they are. There is certainly no comparable case law to recite. But 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.”
A judgment of dismissal was entered after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark A. Young sustained demurrers without leave to amend in actions filed by James Safechuck and Wade Robson. In her opinion ordering reinstatement of the suits, Grimes said the corporations had a duty to the plaintiffs, explaining:
“We are presented here with ‘special circumstances’ that burdened defendants with a special obligation to offer protection or assistance….Plaintiffs were young children—by definition, vulnerable and dependent upon the adults who took care of them and supervised them. Defendants sometimes employed these children. Plaintiffs were often in the care and under the supervision of defendants’ employees, who left them secluded with Jackson, sometimes for hours on end. Defendants’ employees arranged for plaintiffs to be guests in locations staffed and run by defendants; they organized and facilitated occasions for the children to be alone with Jackson; and they were aware of the risk that Jackson would molest the children.”
After distinguishing cases cited by the defendants, Grimes said:
“[T]he point is there are no comparable precedents. Here, defendants employed Jackson and knew he was a danger to young boys. Defendants employed the child victims and employed the staff who ran Jackson’s residences and adopted policies and operations enabling Jackson to be alone with plaintiffs. Defendants’ employees, officers and directors had some control over and responsibility for plaintiffs’ welfare, and defendants were on notice of the danger. They were best situated to prevent the alleged injuries….It is these ‘particular facts and circumstances’…that make these cases different from all the other cases defendants cite.”
“We reject the notion that defendants were powerless to do anything about abuse that was ongoing since 1990, including alerting the authorities and refraining from facilitating the abuse. This is a quintessential question for a jury to decide.”
Justice John Shepard Wiley Jr. and Justice Victor Viramontes signed Grimes’s opinion. Wiley added some thoughts in a concurring opinion, saying:
“Michael Jackson totally controlled the two corporations that are the defendants in these cases. He was their sole shareholder. For tort purposes, to treat Jackson’s wholly-owned instruments as different from Jackson himself is to be mesmerized by abstractions. This is not an alter ego case. This is a same ego case. For tort purposes, Jackson’s corporations were Jackson. They did his bidding and his alone. Jackson himself owed a tort duty to the plaintiffs in this case. So did Jackson’s marionettes, because Jackson’s fingers held every string.
“What is the tort duty? Where the expected benefit of investments in harm avoidance outweighs the burden, courts impose tort duties on defendants, but courts refrain when the burdens outweigh the expected benefits. These corporations could have taken cost-effective steps to reduce the risk of harm. They owed the children that duty in tort.”
He also observed:
“The question in this case is whether Michael Jackson, as puppetmaster of his two wholly-owned corporations, could have taken cost-effective steps to avoid the harm the plaintiffs allege he inflicted upon them. The answer is yes. Jackson could have restrained himself. From a social standpoint, this harm avoidance would have been costless. It merely required law-abiding self-control, which the law expects of every person.”
“Through attorneys, Jackson’s corporations tell us today these protective measures were impossible or absurd because Michael Jackson would not have wanted to adopt them, and he was the only one in charge. But corporations cannot escape their tort duties by saying those with power do not care about safety. It is the job of tort law to make them care.”
The case is Safechuck v. MJJ Productions, Inc., B309450.
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