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Safechuck v. MJJ Productions, Inc.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division

January 3, 2020

JAMES SAFECHUCK, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
MJJ PRODUCTIONS, INC., et al., Defendant and Respondent. WADE ROBSON, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
MJJ PRODUCTIONS, INC., et al., Defendant and Respondent.

          APPEAL from judgments of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County Nos. BC545264, BC508502. Mitchell L. Beckloff, Judge. Reversed and remanded.

          Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, John C. Manly, Vince W. Finaldi, Alexander E. Cunny; Esner, Chang & Boyer, Holly N. Boyer and Steffi A. Jose for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

          Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, Howard L. Weitzman, Jonathan P. Steinsapir, Aaron C. Liskin, Katherine T. Kleindienst; Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland and Alana H. Rotter for Defendants and Respondents.

          BIGELOW, P. J.

         These appeals involve allegations of a disturbing, years-long pattern of child sexual abuse by international superstar Michael Jackson. The truth of those allegations is not at issue here. Instead, we must decide whether plaintiffs Wade Robson and James Safechuck waited too long to sue, not Jackson himself (who died over a decade ago), but two of Jackson's corporations, MJJ Productions, Inc. and MJJ Ventures, Inc., for their involvement in Jackson's alleged abuse of Robson and Safechuck.

         This timeliness issue had been litigated under a prior version of Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 (section 340.1) that required claims of childhood sexual abuse against third-party nonperpetrators to be filed by a victim's 26th birthday unless the claims fell within a narrow exception. Robson and Safechuck sued after their 26th birthdays, and the trial court concluded their claims were untimely because they did not fall within this exception. Effective January 1, 2020, however, section 340.1 was amended to allow a victim to bring claims of childhood sexual assault against third-party nonperpetrators until the victim's 40th birthday. (§ 340.1, as amended by Stats 2019, Ch. 861, §1.) Safechuck and Robson both sued before their 40th birthdays, and the corporations do not dispute the revised statute applies to their nonfinal cases. We reverse the judgments in the corporations' favor and remand for further proceedings. We decline to address any other issues.

         BACKGROUND

         Robson has appealed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the corporations, while Safechuck has appealed judgment after the sustaining of a demurrer. Both cases present the same basic legal question involving the timeliness of their claims, so we have consolidated their appeals for the purposes of this opinion.[1]

         Robson's Case

         Robson was born in 1982 in Australia. Robson claims that starting in 1990 and continuing over the next seven years until he was 14, Jackson sexually molested him. According to Robson, the abuse involved fondling, kissing, giving and receiving oral sex, and one incident during which Jackson attempted to engage in anal sex with him. During the years of abuse, Jackson instructed Robson not to tell anyone about the sexual acts between them.

         Jackson died on June 25, 2009. Robson filed the instant lawsuit in May 2013, when he was 30 years old. As of the operative fourth amended complaint, he named Jackson's corporations MJJ Productions, Inc. and MJJ Ventures, Inc. as third-party nonperpetrator defendants. MJJ Productions was formed in 1979 as one of Jackson's “loan-out corporations” furnishing his services as an artist. MJJ Ventures was formed in 1991 to hold Jackson's interest in a joint venture between him and his recording label, which exploits various artists' sound recordings. Robson's complaint alleged claims against the corporations for (1) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (2) negligence; (3) negligent supervision; (4) negligent retention/hiring; (5) negligent failure to warn, train, or educate; and (6) breach of fiduciary duty.

         The corporations moved for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds pursuant to the version of section 340.1 then in effect. The trial court granted the motion because Robson filed his claims after his 26th birthday and they did not fall within the narrow exception extending the time to file claims against third-party nonperpetrators.

         Safechuck's Case

         Safechuck was born in 1978. He met Jackson in late 1986 or early 1987 while working on a commercial featuring Jackson. In 1988, 10-year-old Safechuck and his mother spent six months with Jackson on tour. Safechuck alleged that during the tour and continuing through 1992, Jackson abused him hundreds of times. According to Safechuck, Jackson kissed Safechuck's genitals, had Safechuck rub and suck Jackson's nipples as he masturbated, had Safechuck “bend over on all fours and then [Jackson] would grab [Safechuck's] butt cheeks and spread them open with one hand, and masturbate himself with the other, ...


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