Judge dismisses defamation lawsuit against HBO and John Oliver

John Oliver at the 2016 HBO Emmy After Party at the Pacific Design Center on Sept. 18, 2016, in West Hollywood, Calif. (Kathy Hutchins/Newscom/Zuma Press)

John Oliver at the 2016 HBO Emmy After Party at the Pacific Design Center on Sept. 18, 2016, in West Hollywood, Calif. (Kathy Hutchins/Newscom/Zuma Press)

A West Virginia judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed by a coal magnate who was ridiculed on HBO’s show “Last Week Tonight” by host John Oliver.

Oliver targeted Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray during a segment last June that blasted his company and criticized the standards of the coal industry at large. In the segment, Oliver said that when a producer for his show tried to get in touch with Murray Energy, it responded with a cease and desist letter from its legal team. The company has a long history of threatening litigation against its critics.

“I know you’re probably going to sue me over this. But, you know what? I stand by everything I said,” said Oliver, who called the CEO a “geriatric Dr. Evil.”

Murray filed a lawsuit shortly after the episode aired.

Attorneys for HBO argued that Oliver’s comments were factual — sourced from various court documents about Murray — or obviously satirical, both of which are protected by the First Amendment.

Judge Jeffrey Cramer of West Virginia’s second judicial circuit agreed, siding with the network’s motion to dismiss the suit.

“I find the arguments set forth in the defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and reply well-founded, appropriate in this matter and will grant the same,” Cramer wrote. “The court adopts, with little exception, defendants’ argument in support of their motion regarding all issues addressed in the same.”

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