Two men who have accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them as children are able to resume their lawsuits against companies owned by the singer, who died in 2009, a California appeals court ruled on Friday.
The men, Wade Robson, 40, and James Safechuck, 45, have alleged that Mr. Jackson sexually abused them for years and that employees of the two companies — MJJ Productions Inc. and MJJ Ventures Inc. — were complicit, acting as his “co-conspirators, collaborators, facilitators and alter egos” for the abuse. The suits say that employees of the companies owed a “duty of care” to the boys and failed to take steps to prevent abuse.
Mr. Robson’s and Mr. Safechuck’s stories were featured in the 2019 HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland,” in which the men accused Mr. Jackson of molesting them and cultivating relationships with their families to access the boys’ bodies.
“Everybody wanted to meet Michael or be with Michael,” Mr. Safechuck said in the film. “He was already larger than life. And then he likes you.”
The two companies are now owned by Mr. Jackson’s estate, which has repeatedly denied that he abused the boys.
“We remain fully confident that Michael is innocent of these allegations, which are contrary to all credible evidence and independent corroboration, and which were only first made years after Michael’s death by men motivated solely by money,” Jonathan Steinsapir, a lawyer for Mr. Jackson’s estate, said in a statement after the decision.
Vince Finaldi, a lawyer for Mr. Safechuck and Mr. Robson, said in a statement that the court had overturned “incorrect rulings in these cases, which were against California law and would have set a dangerous precedent that endangered children.”
Mr. Robson and Mr. Safechuck filed their suits against the companies in 2013 and 2014, respectively, but both cases were dismissed in 2017 because they exceeded California’s statute of limitations. They were reopened in 2020 after a new state law provided plaintiffs in child sex abuse cases an additional period to file lawsuits.
In October 2020 and April 2021, the suits were again dismissed when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that the two corporations and their employees were not legally obligated to protect the men from Mr. Jackson.
But on Friday, California’s Second District Court of Appeal ruled that “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.”
In a concurring opinion, Justice John Shepard Wiley Jr. said that for the purposes of civil liability, the corporations did the sole bidding of Mr. Jackson, who had a duty of care to Mr. Robson and Mr. Safechuck.
“So did Jackson’s marionettes, because Jackson’s fingers held every string,” he said, adding, “These corporations could have taken cost-effective steps to reduce the risk of harm.”
The cases, which were consolidated in the appeals court, will now go back to a trial court.
In his lawsuit, Mr. Robson, who is now a choreographer and director, says that Mr. Jackson molested him from age 7 to 14. After meeting Mr. Jackson through a dance competition when he was 5, Mr. Robson performed in his music videos and released an album on his record label.
According to his suit, the abuse started in 1990 when Mr. Jackson invited Mr. Robson and his family to stay at his Neverland Ranch in California. Mr. Robson and Mr. Jackson slept in the same bed and touched each other’s genitals, according to the suit. Over the next seven years, the suit said, they engaged in sexual acts including masturbation and oral sex.
The suit says that employees of MJJ Productions witnessed the abuse and that employees of the two companies took steps to ensure that Mr. Jackson was alone with Mr. Robson and other children.
Mr. Safechuck’s lawsuit says he was one of several children entrapped by the companies’ “child sexual abuse procurement and facilitation organization.” According to his suit, Mr. Safechuck met Mr. Jackson during filming for a Pepsi commercial in late 1986 or early 1987 and later became a dancer for Mr. Jackson.
Mr. Jackson showed the 10-year-old boy how to masturbate while on tour in 1988, the suit alleges, and abused Mr. Safechuck hundreds of times over the next four years. The employees of MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures coordinated the visits, according to the suit.
Before these lawsuits, Mr. Jackson twice faced criminal investigations into the possible sexual abuse of children.
In 1994, the district attorneys for Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Counties decided not to proceed with charges that Mr. Jackson had molested three boys because the “primary alleged victim” decided not to testify. Mr. Jackson, who denied any wrongdoing, had reached a $20 million civil settlement with the boy’s family.
In 2003, a Santa Barbara County district attorney charged Mr. Jackson with several counts of child molesting and serving alcohol to minors. After a 14-week trial in 2005, he was acquitted by a jury.