LOS ANGELES – Five orphaned siblings who received gifts and a new dream home on the hit ABC (search) television show "Extreme Makeover, Home Edition" (search) are suing the network, the company that built the house and the couple who took them in after their parents died.
The lawsuit is rooted in a falling out between the children — who range in age from 15 to 22 — and the couple, Phil and Loki Leomiti. The children ultimately moved out of the Leomitis' home in Santa Fe Springs, a small city southeast of Los Angeles, and are living separately with friends, said Charles Higgins II, the eldest sibling.
Their complaint, which was filed Wednesday, alleges fraud and breach of contract.
"What we're really seeing is the collision between reality TV and the perception reality TV seeks to create in the minds of the general public," said Patrick Mesisca, the Higginses' lawyer.
ABC said it does not comment on litigation and referred queries to the production companies.
The network, however, said in a statement that "It is important to note that the episode was about the rebuilding of the Leomiti family's existing home to accommodate the inclusion of the five Higgins siblings, whom the Leomitis had invited into their lives following the death of their parents."
People who answered the phone at the Leomitis' home initially said the couple had no comment and later referred questions to ABC and to Endemol USA, the television show's production company.
Endemol publicist Melissa Armstrong said the company had not yet reviewed the claim.
The parents of the Higgins children died 10 weeks apart in the spring of 2004 — the mother of breast cancer and the father of heart failure. The Leomitis, who knew the children from church, took them in to their home in July 2004, according to the lawsuit.
Producers of "Extreme Makeover" learned of the children's plight from a television newscast.
Workers demolished the Leomitis' house in February. Pardee Homes replaced it with a 9-bedroom mansion, and show producers arranged for the siblings to receive cars, groceries, computers, stereos, and other gifts.
Pardee paid off the mortgage on the new house but the Leomitis retained the title, according to the lawsuit.
But around the time that the episode first aired in late March, the Higginses moved out. Their lawsuit alleges that the Leomitis engaged in "an orchestrated campaign" to drive them away by insulting them and treating them poorly.
"We were promised a home," said Charles Higgins II. "They broke that promise."
Mesisca, the attorney, acknowledged Wednesday that the siblings were never promised a house in writing. But the network's statements and actions could legally be considered a promise, he said.
The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.