A West Virginia judge dismissed Murray Energy CEO Robert E. Murray's defamation lawsuit against HBO and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, which was filed after Oliver told him to "Eat S— Bob" in a June episode.
In Oliver's June 18, 2017 episode, the comedian criticized the coal magnate's safety record, his business practices and his politics. The segment culminated with an actor dressed as a "Mr. Nutterbutter," a giant squirrel. Oliver and "Mr. Nutterbutter" also presented a check that read, "Eat S— Bob." Oliver also predicted that Murray would sue him, which is exactly what happened.
But on Wednesday, Marshall County, West Virginia judge Jeffrey D. Cramer agreed with HBO and Oliver, and dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, according to Lawfulmasses.com.
According to The Wrap, Murray said in his suit that Oliver's fans responded to the segment by sending him messages in which they called him a "f—ing scumbag,” and “rich greedy a–hole." Murray also accused Oliver of libel.
HBO defended its host, citing the First Amendment. The network's attorneys pointed out that Oliver was correct in his segment when he noted that government investigators found Murray's claim that an earthquake caused a deadly coal mine was false. HBO also said that other statements were Oliver's opinions, not facts.
“Plaintiffs do not come close to satisfying the legal requirements for these speech-based tort claims," HBO said in its motion to dismiss. "In fact, their complaint disregards long-settled First Amendment and common law protections for the two types of speech challenged here: accurate reporting on government activity, and commentary and satire on matters of public concern.”
The ACLU stepped in to defend Oliver, calling Murray's lawsuit "plain nuts."
"Satire, hyperbole, offensive speech, and comedy are all protected by the First Amendment — that’s especially true with regards to speech about public figures on matters of public concern," the ACLU said. "Comedians like John Oliver and Stephen Colbert don’t just have large audiences — they have large audiences that care about the important issues facing our country. Courts should never be used as a sword to prevent those audiences from receiving information because powerful people find it objectionable."
Last Week Tonight returned with new episodes earlier this month. The half-hour show airs on HBO Sundays at 11 p.m. ET. The show, which has won seven Emmys, has been renewed through 2020.