Judge sides with John Oliver, HBO in defamation suit by coal executive

John Oliver during an appearance on NBC's 'Late Night with Seth Meyers' on Feb. 14, 2017. (Supplied by

A West Virginia judge is siding with HBO and “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver in a legal battle with the owner of the country’s largest privately owned coal company.

Attorneys for Robert Murray, owner of Murray Energy Corporation, complained that the HBO late night show “executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies.”

Oliver devoted much of his June 18, 2017 show to criticizing the coal industry in general and Murray specifically, at one point referring to the then-77-year-old as “a geriatric Dr. Evil.”

The lawsuit accused Oliver of defaming an elderly man who "does not expect to live to see the end of this case."

HBO argued that Murray failed to state a defamation claim, the factual portions of the segment were based on official records and government reports, and the comedic insults were satire.

In a letter to attorneys obtained by the Hollywood Reporter, Judge Jeffrey Cramer stated Wednesday that he found the defense motion to dismiss well-founded and will grant it.

He asked attorneys for HBO and “Last Week Tonight” to draft a proposed order within 20 days including findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a note to dismiss the matter with prejudice.