Jessica Simpson’s billion-dollar fashion brand is embroiled in some legal drama at the moment. The singer-turned-reality star-turned-designer was slapped with a multi-million dollar lawsuit in California state court last week, in which plaintiff Jeffrey Bowler is accusing Simpson of reneging on an oral agreement he made with Simpson’s father/former manager, Joe Simpson. According to Bowler’s lawsuit, Joe Simpson allegedly agreed to pay Bowler a 10 percent finder’s fee if he could find a buyer for in With You Inc., a the holding company that owns the intellectual property rights to Jessica's Simpson’s fashion brand. Unfortunately for Bowler, the deal was made more than ten years ago over the phone and was never committed to writing.
This deal became problematic back in April, when Simpson sold a major stake in her company, which consists of 31 categories of goods, including footwear, apparel, fragrance, accessories, girls’ clothing, and a home collection, for $120 million to Sequential, a brand management and licensing company. Now Bowler is claiming he found the buyer, set up the meeting and helped Joe Simpson close the deal, and was then robbed of his $12 million finder’s fee. Bowler's lawsuit seeks damages for fraud and breach of the oral contract related to his commission in connection with the sale of the Jessica Simpson Collection.
This case would arguably be simple enough, except that Simpson’s father Joe, With You Inc. and Simpson's current manager, David Levin, are now suing Bowler for extortion in Manhattan Supreme Court, claiming that on the heels of the sale, Simpson received a letter from Bowler's lawyer threatening to publicly embarrass the family if Simpson failed to pay the $12 million. According to the parties’ complaint, there was a deal in the works with Bowler in 2010 but that deal, which ultimately fell through, was "regarding a potential licensing and/or endorsement deal for [Jessica's] makeup product lines," not for the sale of With You Inc.'s assets. Simpson and co. further allege that Bowler "had no involvement" in the negotiation, closing or initiation of a deal to sell the majority interest in With You Inc. "for a confidential, multi-million dollar sum."
Joe Simpson claims that even if there was an oral contract between him and Bowler, it is far too vague to be enforceable, and is asking the court in the lawsuit to issue a declaration stating that there is no binding contract with Bowler and thus, that they did not commit fraud, as Bowler alleges. Oh, and that’s not all, Simpson and Levin are also seeking unspecified damages against Bowler for defamation, claiming that his accusations "materially tarnish" their "professional reputations" as a talent manager and a business manager, respectively.
As a side note, if you’re doing the math here, you may have come up with a fairly major discrepancy. It has been widely report that Simpson’s brand brings in roughly $1 billion a year in revenue. In Bowler’s complaint, he alleges that Simpson sold a majority stake in the Jessica Simpson Collection for $120 million. Something isn’t quite adding up here.
IMAGE COURTESY OF NORMAN JEAN ROY.