19 Jul 2011

The Author

Author of the award-winning book Finding Fernanda. Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Redux Pictures photographer. Read more here.


Under Threat of Lawsuit, Celebrate Children International becomes “Celebrate Children”

Another surprise in the latest batch of public records from the Florida Department of Children and Families: Celebrate Children International, Incorporated has shortened their name to “Celebrate Children” after another nonprofit, Children International, Incorporated, threatened them with a lawsuit.

Here’s what the note in the  state of Florida’s licensing file says: “2011 Update: Celebrate Children International is currently being sued by Children International regarding infringement of name usage… 5/1/2011 Update: CCI submitted an email from their legal representative indicating that Children International is no longer seeking to have CCI change their name. Instead, Children International has agreed to allow CCI implement a disclaimer on their website indicating they are not affiliated with Children International, and to simply change their name on the website to read “Celebrate Children.” Pending final settlement agreement.”

So who is “Children International?” They’re another nonprofit, who define themselves as “a humanitarian organization focused on helping overcome poverty through child sponsorship.” They’re based in Missouri, and offer sponsorships in various countries, including Guatemala and Ethiopia– where Celebrate Children International also offers them.

There’s over 30 pages of emails from Sue Hedberg, her attorneys in Orlando, and the attorneys for Children International in the latest DCF licensing file. Apparently, Children International sent two cease and desist letters to Celebrate Children International, one on October 2, 2010 and one on November 10, 2010. Two lawyers for the nonprofits– Christopher S. Brown of the Kansas City law firm Van Osdol & Magruder for Children International, and Bridget H. Labutta of the Orlando firm Allen, Dyer, Doppelt, Milbrath & Gilchrist, P.A. for Celebrate Children International- went back and forth. At first, Children International wanted Celebrate Children International to stop using the words “Children International” in their name, altogether, and as well as the initials “CCI.” Having an adoption agency named simply “Celebrate” might be a little strange, and agency director Sue Hedberg appears to have been vexed by the issue.

In a November 22, 2010 email to her lawyer, she wrote, “I guess we could stop sponsoring children! Is that what they want? Is that in the best interest of children?” Months later, on January 6, 2011, she sent another email to her lawyer, considering a more aggressive strategy. ”…If I put out the word of their threats, they will receive 2000 letters from my adoptive families about this and there would be negativity towards them publically,” she wrote. “I have some very impressive clientelle who have adopted (sports figures, several media personelle, etc). In fact, my sister produces a TV daytime program and I have even thought to go to her about this… I have been thinking about this… having families say ‘shame on you’ for trying to do this to an agency who built our family. Shall I do this? They SHOULD be ashamed. If they  do sue, I hope the judge would also say “shame on you.”[sic]

Hedberg’s lawyer told her that having thousands of clients send letters to Children International was not a good idea.

As of June 2011, lawyers for the two businesses were passing a draft agreement back and forth that required Celebrate Children International to change their legal name to “Celebrate Children,” stop using the initials “CCI,” and stop using “Children International” in their name.

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