5:14pm PT by Bryn Elise Sandberg, Austin Siegemund-Broka
Anne Heche Sued in Dispute Over Children's Sunblock
Anne Heche could get burned in a new legal battle.
Dueling lawsuits have been filed this week over Tickle Time, a children’s sunblock company. Two years ago, Heche and her business partner, James Tupper, discovered La Bella Donna mineral makeup -- a "foundation, concealer and sunblock all in one," according to the beauty company’s website.
Impressed by the sunblock’s results, Heche and Tupper approached LBD founders Kathleen Tracy and Nicole Tracy-Arranaga about creating a children’s sunblock using LBD's mineral formula. They formed Tickle Time in March 2012, with Heche, Tupper, Tracy and Tracy-Arranaga owning the company equally.
"Kathy and Nicole have always wanted to develop a mineral product line for children, and Tickle Time seemed like the perfect place to start," Heche wrote on Tickle Time's website. "At the end of lunch, we threw our arms around each other having formed a fast friendship."
Heche and Tupper, with no prior business experience, agreed to be solely responsible for the marketing and publicity of Tickle Time, leaving the management and operations to Tracy and Tracy-Arranaga.
But the "fast friendship" was not to last.
Tracy and Tracy-Arranage filed suit against Heche, Tupper and Tickle Time on Tuesday, claiming they "wrongly decided to try to take over Tickle Time."
The same day, Heche and Tupper countersued the La Bella Donna co-founders. The Tracys "breached their contractual and fiduciary duties by self-dealing and deliberately sabotaging the business to make way for their own competitive product," Heche and Tupper claim. They have also named La Bella Donna as a defendant.
A main point of contention is that Heche and Tupper "relentlessly sought to expand Tickle Time to include an adult product line," the Tracys' complaint reads.
The Tracys argue that Tickle Time was formed for the express purpose of creating, marketing and distributing sunblock to only children, and that they would have immediately passed on Heche's proposal had they known it would include adult skincare products. Why develop and market a new product line that would compete with La Bella Donna?
Heche and Tupper, however, claim that the Tracys "enthusiastically agreed" early on that Tickle Time would expand its product line to adults and that the Tracys did not resist the strategy until February 2013.
Moreover, Tracy and Tracy-Arranaga claim that Heche and Tupper tried to force them to over-purchase Tickle Time's component supplies, depleting the company's resources. They point to a specific incident in May 2013 where Tupper allegedly gave a component supplier "inconsistent and inaccurate" information, resulting in a delayed shipment and an earlier payment.
Tupper and Heche again tell a different story -- allegedly, Tupper only made the "urgent" order because the Tracys neglected to replenish Tickle Time's materials as the company's inventory sold. The supply is said to have run out at the beginning of summer anyway, leading customers to receive back-order or out-of-stock notifications and sales to sink.
“It was becoming increasingly difficult to attribute the failure to order materials to mere incompetence,” leading Heche and Tupper to suspect sabotage, they claim.
They accuse the Tracys of other counterproductive behavior. Heche and Tupper would make successful sales calls to “prestigious” retailers; the Tracys would allegedly “slam those doors shut -- usually by inaction.” The plaintiffs insisted on hiring an outside sales rep; the Tracys allegedly refused to pay commissions to the rep. Heche and Tupper also claim they were charged “vastly inflated” prices for Tickle Time’s mineral components by the Tracys.
The La Bella Donna co-founders, in turn, accuse Heche and Tupper of sourcing minerals for Tickle Time outside of La Bella Donna. Additionally, the Tracys contend, “Heche and Tupper have not generated any publicity for Tickle Time based on their own efforts,” instead hiring a PR firm on Tickle Time’s dime -- and using it to promote Heche’s recent sitcom Save Me.
Represented by Michael Taitelman and Jacqueline Brown, the Tracys have filed breach of fiduciary duty charges against both Tickle Time and Heche and Tupper.
In addition to breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and promissory and constructive fraud charges, Heche and Tupper claim misrepresentation -- Kathleen Tracy falsely called herself a “pioneer” and “visionary” in mineral-blend skincare, which is a simple process of mixing four minerals, Heche and Tupper contend. Represented by David Erikson, they are requesting Kathleen Tracy’s removal from Tickle Time’s board of directors, as well as damages.
“I hope we’ll find a business solution to the problem. My clients will continue to work toward that solution. I hope that Heche and Tupper do the same. If not, we are prepared to fight to vindicate our position,” Taitelman says.
Representatives for La Bella Donna and Tickle Time did not respond to requests for comment, and Erikson declined to comment.