SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - A professional BMX rider claims in court that a sponsor dumped and defamed him to duck the $46,000 it owes him for endorsing its clothes.
Rick Thorne sued W.A.R. We All Ride and Cole Witcher in Orange County Court. He alleges breach of contract, fraud, defamation, unfair business practices and unauthorized practice of law.
Thorne claims the firm terminated his and other riders' endorsement agreements after falsely claiming they were not wearing W.A.R. clothing at public events.
"Plaintiff believes that defendant has perpetrated a malicious fraud against multiple team athletes in the following way," the complaint states. "Defendant signs athletes to long-term agreements, gains publicity for defendants' clothing company, then trumps up false charges against legally unsophisticated athletes and intimidates them into believing that they have breached their endorsement agreements and thereby are not entitled to the fruits of the bargain they made."
Thorne says he earns his living through endorsements and prize money for riding. In late 2010 he agreed to let W.A.R. use his name and image to promote its clothing and accessories.
But in July 2011, Thorne says, he received a "curious" cease-and-desist letter, claiming he had breached the endorsement agreements by not wearing W.A.R. clothing during public appearances.
Thorne says he does not believe a lawyer drafted the letter, and says the firm was trying to intimidate him into believing he was in breach of contract.
Months later, when Thorne tried to contact W.A.R.'s attorney, Linda Quinlan, in Chicago, an associate named Robert Greenlee said that he had "'no idea'" who had written the letter, according to the complaint.
Neither Quinlan nor her law office nor Greenlee are parties to the complaint.
The complaint states: "When asked the meaning of the salutation at the end which says 'Sincerely, Quinlan Law Firm c/o We All Ride LLC,' he [Greenlee] said, 'I don't know what that means either.' The letter in question arrived at plaintiff's address in an envelope sent from the city of Yorba Linda, Calif., not Chicago, Ill., where all other communications from defendants' attorney originate, further raising suspicion about its origin.' Since this time, Mr. Greenlee has claimed that someone at the Quinlan law firm wrote the letter. We believe no one will admit to the writing of this letter under oath, however."
Thorne says that when he received the letter in the summer of 2011, he tried without success to contact W.A.R. principal Cole Witcher, and hired an attorney to resolve the matter. He claims that a W.A.R. attorney then told him was not in breach of the endorsement agreements.
"Plaintiff received no reply from Mr. Witcher until August 8, 2010, when Mr. Witcher
told him his contract would be terminated, despite the July 29 letter's offer to allow a cure of any alleged breach," the complaint states. "Plaintiff was puzzled by Mr. Witcher's unorthodox and unfair technique of sending a cease and desist letter, refusing to reply to efforts to cure any supposed misunderstandings, then unilaterally terminating the agreement without any further discussions. Prior to this, plaintiff had not heard from defendant since the June 21, 2011 email apologizing for failed efforts by defendant to honor their part of the agreement."
Thorne says that though the July cease-and-desist letter said he would be given a chance to correct the supposed breach, W.A.R. terminated the agreement "without warning, after refusing to reply to repeated attempts to contact Mr. Witcher."
"Defendants' accusations are false," the complaint states. "The agreement requires defendant (during the term of the agreement) to wear W.A.R. clothing and gear at all times during public practices of his craft, and at all times during 'Free Style Riding Events.' Plaintiff has done exactly that and beyond as part of a good faith effort to comply with the agreement at all times. Defendants' attempts to demonstrate anything to the contrary fall short of establishing any breach and frankly seem like a desperate attempt to cut costs at the expense of plaintiff."
Thorne claims that another rider, Austen Seaholm, was cut loose in the same way.
Thorne has won various BMX races, and appeared in several movies, including the 2009 comedy "Paul Blart, Mall Cop," the thriller "Triple X" and skateboarder Tony Hawk and BMX rider Matt Hoffman's video games, he says in the complaint.
He seeks compensatory, general and special damages.
He is represented by Joseph Escalante of Seal Beach.