Lots of Shouting About the 'Dog Whisperer'
LOS ANGELES (CN) - The author and a production company behind the "Dog Whisperer" books and TV series claim producers diverted money from a joint venture created to make the show.
Emery Sumner Productions sued MPH Entertainment and its principals Mark Hufnail, Jim Milio and Jeanette Buerling this week in Superior Court.
Days earlier, author/filmmaker Melissa Jo Peltier sued the same defendants in the same court.
Peltier co-authored a series of books with "Dog Whisperer" star Cesar Millan.
The books capitalized on the success of the television show, which focuses on Millan's training program for problem dogs. Since its premiere in 2004, the show has been broadcast on National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild.
Emery Sumner claims in its lawsuit that its predecessor, Source Productions, entered into a joint venture with MPH in 2003 to produce the "Dog Whisperer" show. The parties amended the agreement to reflect Emery Sumner's part in the venture just over a year later, the lawsuit states.
Emery Sumner accuses MPH of diverting revenue from previous "Dog Whisperer" seasons to fund subsequent episodes of the show, and claims the defendants entered into distribution agreements with National Geographic for its "own benefit and to the detriment of the joint venture."
Under the terms of the agreement, Emery Sumner claims, withdrawals from the venture's bank account were limited to $500, with anything more requiring joint approval.
It claims MPH avoided this provision by paying thousands of dollars in invoices in installments of $499.
"In doing so, MPH wrongfully orchestrated a scheme to avoid the financial restrictions and protections that were provided for in the joint venture agreement and to act without plaintiff's consent," the complaint states.
Emery Sumner wants the defendant enjoined from managing the partnership, compensatory damages and restitution.
In her lawsuit, filed this past Friday, Peltier claims Milio and Hufnail swiped much of her income from her publishing contracts with Random House and Simon & Schuster, though they were not parties to agreements.
Peltier, who formed MPH with Milio and Hufnail in 1996 under an equal partnership, claims the pair lied about the financial state of the production company to avoid compensating her for five "Dog Whisperer" books, her work on the television series, and for another book she co-wrote, "The Mommy Docs' Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth."
In 2007, Milio and Hufnail took the majority of Random House's $1 million advance for the Dog Whisperer book, "A Member of the Family," and began to misrepresent the amount of income in the partnership, Peltier claims.
Peltier says she asked to leave MPH in 2010, but Milo and Hufnail told her they did not have the money to buy her out, and that she was liable for a line of credit the three partners had taken out with First California bank several years earlier.
Peltier claims Milo and Hufnail "unilaterally stopped" paying her salary last year, claiming MPH was in "financial crisis."
But Milio and Hufnail kept their own salaries intact, according to Peltier, who claims she later learned the partnership had generated $1.2 million of profits in 2012 from the joint venture's back-end income.
She says she resigned from MPH after Milio and Hufnail refused to let her see the partnership's records and books.
"Instead of providing Ms. Peltier with access to MPH's books and records so that Ms. Peltier could discharge her duties as an MPH director, defendants Milio and Hufnail 'accepted' Ms. Peltier's resignation and then nominated and elected defendant Milio's fiancée, defendant [Jeanette] Buerling, to serve on MPH's board effective June 27, 2013. Defendants Milio, Hufnail and Buerling promptly voted to give themselves blanket indemnity against all financial liabilities 'carried' by MPH and blanket indemnity against any and all lawsuits related to MPH and their business transactions involving MPH," the complaint states.
Millan filed a lawsuit in state court late last year, claiming that MPH had misappropriated back-end profits from the "Dog Whisperer" television series, according to Peltier's complaint.
Peltier seeks an accounting and damages for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and fraudulent inducement, and a declaration that Beurling's appointment is void.
She is represented by Miles Carlsen of Woodland Hills.
Emery Sumner is represented by Kenneth Ingber with Ingber & Associates.
MPH Entertainment noted in an email its sadness and outrage "that our joint venture partners of 10 years have chosen to file this meritless claim against us."
"The facts will speak for themselves and we have no doubt that we will prevail on all counts," MPH added. "We prefer to let the judicial process play out rather than attempting to try our case in the press."