One of the largest coal mine operators in America is Murray Energy Corporation, headed by CEO Robert Murray. He denies climate change, has been through numerous strikes, lobbies for pro-industry legislation, and lays off workers on a whim. This makes him a prime target for some serious lampooning.
However, Murray is also one of the most litigious executives in America. He has filed more than a dozen lawsuits against newspapers, journalists, and even websites on the basis of defamation. He has never won a case. Every instance in which he has tried to claim defamation has ended up with the defense being awarded the win — this is because truth is an absolute defense in all defamation cases.
In one case, for example, Murray sued the Charleston Gazette and their reporter Ken Ward Jr. Supposedly, the reporter posted pure libel on his personal blog. The post was called “Mitt Romney, Murray Energy, and Coal Criminals”. According to Murray, the post irreparably damaged his reputation and business, as well as jeopardized jobs for some locals. However, all of the statements that Ward Jr. made in the article were true. This meant that Murray lost in court yet again.
The most recent case that this CEO has been involved in is with HBO, John Oliver, and Last Week Tonight. The June 18th, 2017 episode of the show talked about the Crandall Canyon Mine collapse — an event where six miners were trapped after a cave-in — and how Murray did not sufficiently protect the safety of his workers. It only took three days for the lawsuit to show up from Murray Energy against HBO and John Oliver.
Murray tried to play a different angle this time, suggesting that the host of Last Week Tonight attempted to incite his viewers to bring harm against Murray’s business and Murray himself. In addition, they claimed that this portion of the show was intentional character assassination. Murray even claimed that his life would be shortened directly by the segment due to his chronic pulmonary fibrosis.
Despite these creative legal arguments, the case was dismissed by West Virginia’s Judge Jeffrey Cramer (of the second judicial circuit) just a few days ago. Cramer decided that the material presented in Last Week Tonight was First Amendment-protected free speech, and thus could not be the subject of a defamation suit. HBO even called out Murray in their Motion to Dismiss, stating that this was yet another attempt to use “punitive litigation…to chill constitutionally protected speech”.
The main defense that HBO and John Oliver had was the ever-present ‘truth’ defense. This was even supported by an amicus brief from the American Civil Liberties Union. This legal document — full of some of the snarkiest phrases you’ve ever seen in a brief of this nature — bashed Robert Murray while lending its full support to HBO and John Oliver. This was likely a direct contribution to the final decision of the court.
It is also worth mentioning that the case was dismissed “with prejudice”. This means that Robert Murray will not be able to appeal the decision in the same court. If he really wishes to pursue this (clearly unconstitutional) sanction, he will need to move on to a different one.
So, what do you think of Robert Murray? How about John Oliver’s view on him and his company? Let us know in the comments!