On Easter Sunday 2005, ABC's Extreme Makeover Home Edition aired an especially poignant episode. Five children, ages 14-21, from the Higgins family were orphaned. A couple from their church, with three children of their own, took them in. The result was 10 people living in cramped quarters.
The show finds families like these and, in the course of a week, rebuilds their home from scratch. The process is edited into a one-hour episode. In the beginning, we are told the tale of woe in as heart-tugging a fashion as possible. Also factoring prominently in every beginning segment are the horrible living conditions and the heroic nature of the people who are flourishing despite the hardship. Then the family is whisked off to a vacation, the house is razed and rebuilt, and the ending segment is the presentation of the house to the always overwhelmed family.
The ending segment is designed to be as heart-tugging as the first. The rebuilt home is always astonishingly beautiful and completely furnished. In the Easter Sunday special, the rebuilt home had nine bedrooms, including one for each child. The show also paid off the mortgage.
The Higgins' happy ending did not last. The family that took them in asked them to leave the beautiful nine-bedroom home because it did not belong to the Higgins.
The eldest child, Charles Higgins, who is also legal guardian for the minor children, contacted the producers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, who could not help. Apparently the 24-page single spaced contract did not give the Higgins any right to the home built as a result of their tragedy. It did, however, give ABC the rights to their story and the episode was rebroadcast complete with happy ending after the Higgins children were already evicted.
As is often the case when good contracts go bad, the Higgins children sued both the couple that had evicted them and the various companies involved in making the show. The claims against the companies involved in making the show centered around the promise to provide them a home.
In a published decision yesterday, the California Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that the portion of the contract that required arbitration was unenforceable because it was both procedurally and substantively unconscionable. The Higgins will now be able to take their case through to a full-blown jury trial.