Contracts Keyed to Knapp
Higgins v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County
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Five orphaned siblings (the “Higgins (P)”) whose age ranges was between 14 to 21, and living with the Leomitis, were approached by the producers of the television program Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (Extreme Makeover) with a proposal to make a show based on the loss of their parents and their living with the Leomitis’. Fortunately, the Higginses (P) and the Leomitis were chosen to participate in the program and apart from this, the Leomitis home would also be renovated. A 24 single-spaced pages and 72 numbered paragraphs contract were sent to the Higgins (P) and Leomitis by the producers. Attached to the contract were several pages of exhibits and an authorization for release of medical information, emergency medical release and, a one-page document titled “Release” and which was classified as exhibit C, were all included in the contract. The first page of the agreement contained a caveat which specified that potential signors should not append their signature unless they have gone through the agreement. Included in contract and close to the end of the agreement, was a paragraph which stated that the signor must have read through the agreement and reviewed it with a legal counsel or at his/her discretion, have opted to read and review the agreement alone. Among the last 12 numbered paragraphs that had no title or heading was paragraph 69, which stipulated that disputes or controversies would be resolved through a binding arbitration. There was no reference to draw the attention of the reader to this particular clause and the one-page release also contained a similar clause like this which relates to arbitration provision. The television producer and none of their representative held any discussion about the agreement was held with the Higgins (P) and when the agreement was presented at the Leomitis home, the Higgins (P) did not join the meeting. After this meeting, Mrs. Leomitis instructed the Higgins (P) after she handed over the documents to them, to “flip through the papers, sign and initial the documents of the agreement where it contained a signature line or box,” which they did without fully understanding the implication of appending their signatures. After the signing of the agreement, reconstruction of the Leomitis house began and this was carried out by the representative from the show. The program was broadcasted and it featured the Higgins (P) and the Leomitis. After the broadcast of this show, the Leomitis compelled the Higgins (P) to leave their house. The Higgins (P) made this situation known to the producers who did not bother about their present predicament but went ahead to rebroadcast the show. This lead the Higgins (P) to sue the various parties in connection with the show (the “television defendants”) (D), including the Leomitis. The Higgins (P) claimed the other parties had breached the contract but the television defendants (D) petitioned to enforce arbitration. This was however opposed by the Higgins (P) on the ground that compelling the arbitration provision was unconscionable. This trial court ruled in favor of the defendants and the Higgins (P) met this judgment by filing for writ of mandate which challenging the trial court’s ruling. A review was therefore granted by the state’s intermediate court of appeal.
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