Orphans sue Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

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Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has been sued by a family of five orphans who claim that they were denied the new home promised to them by producers of the show.

The five Higgins children lost both of their parents in early 2004 when their mother died of breast cancer and their father of heart failure. The orphans were later taken into the home of the Leomitis family, who were acquainted with the Higgins clan through church.

After ABC producers learned of the children's misfortune, they stepped in to replace the Leomitis home with a nine-bedroom mansion. They also showered the Leomitis and Higgins families with gifts such as cars, computers, stereos, and groceries. Pardee Homes--the company that built the new house--paid off the mortgage in full, but allowed the Leomitises to retain the property's title.

According to the Higgins family, the trouble began immediately after construction of the house and production of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode concluded. The Leomitises allegedly launched "an orchestrated campaign" to drive the Higgins children out of their new home by battering them with verbal insults, racial epithets, and physical abuse. By the end of March, the Higginses had moved out of the Leomitis abode, and are currently scattered among the houses of other friends.

In a complaint filed Wednesday, the Higgins children claim that the Leomitis family used the orphans to increase their chances of being chosen to appear on the show. They also accused ABC of fraud and breach of contract. "We were promised a new home," says eldest sibling Charles Higgins II. "They broke that promise."

The network will not respond to questions about the lawsuit, but did release a statement saying, "It is important to note that the episode was about the rebuilding of the Leomitis 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."

Patrick Mesisca, lawyer for the Higginses, acknowledges that ABC never made a written promise to the children, but believes that the network's statements and actions were promise enough.