Lawsuit claims “continuous and serious breaches of fiduciary duties,” among other charges, and seeks third-party receiver to oversee its operations
By: Eddie Rivera, News Editor
Citing “continuous and serious breaches of fiduciary duties, self-dealing and breaches of charitable trust,” former Wildlife Waystation board member Peggy Summers has filed a lawsuit against Martine Colette, founder of the animal sanctuary in Little Tujunga Canyon.
The lawsuit is seeking damages, a preliminary and permanent injunction against the Waystation and the removal of its directors, as well as an accounting and “equitable relief.” According to the lawsuit, the accusations arise from two instances of breach of fiduciary duty, a breach of charitable trust, wrongful removal, and unjust enrichment.
The 44-page Superior Court filing, dated January 9, states, “The Waystation’s reputation hides a litany of financial, administrative, and regulatory issues deriving from the conduct of Colette, who has treated the Waystation as her own personal fiefdom.”
The filing continues: “Defendant Colette dictated the affairs of the Waystation with an iron fist and virtually no oversight. She also silenced dissent voiced by any employee, staff member or volunteer with immediate dismissal, regardless of the potential ramifications. The result is a Waystation that is struggling financially, suffering from low morale, and unable to properly care for its animals.”
One former Waystation employee, who asked to remain anonymous, affirmed the accusations and told The Foothill Record, “This has been a long time coming. She [Colette] has done things her own way for a very long time with little regard as to whether it’s legal to do so or not. Board members have often quit over their frustration of her not doing the right things.”
Another former employee, who also asked to remain anonymous, fearing retribution, said, “The Waystation is a backyard menagerie, not a real nonprofit. Nothing happens fairly. Money isn’t used the way it should be. I honestly can’t believe this is the first time this has happened.”
Two stories last year in The Record detailed many of these same charges, including poor financial management, retributions against staff members and volunteers, and lack of a cohesive emergency management plan when the Waystation was threatened by the Sand fire.
The lawsuit also noted the “countless members” of the Waystation’s board of directors who have resigned since the facility’s inception. In addition, says the suit, the Waystation has faced issues regarding “its poor and incoherent” financial practices, as well as numerous investigations by various government agencies, including the California Department of Fish and Game and the US Department of Agriculture.”
The Waystation has been closed to the public since 2000, due to various environmental and health code violations.
The lawsuit cites, among numerous examples, the dumping of the contents of a pool used by grizzly bears into a nearby creek bed, in violation of a 2006 consent agreement with the state attorney general. According to the lawsuit, volunteers would drain the pool, which was filled with urine and fecal matter, into a creek bed, then clean the pool with bleach and soap and dump that water into the creek bed as well.
“Colette’s actions have also put the Waystation’s very existence at risk,” Summers’ lawsuit also states, saying that Colette has brought “great financial and reputational harm to the Waystation, leaving demoralized staff and neglected animals suffering in her wake.”
The lawsuit also details the confusing set of financial circumstances surrounding the ownership of the Waystation property, Colette’s own apartment on the property, and loans back and forth between the sanctuary and Colette, eventually creating more and more debt for the sanctuary.
Colette also used employees for a large amount of work on her home, according to the lawsuit, including remodeling her home and outdoor patio. The remodel included a new stone barbecue, lights, a new refrigerator, a garbage disposal, water lines, and electrical outlets.
The suit also asserts that the firing of long-time employee Michael Rapp for “financial reasons” was instead retribution for his comments against Colette.
Summers’ lawsuit seeks a court order removing Colette as a voting board member and barring her from being a voting board member for a determined time. The suit also is asking for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, which would bar Colette and the current board from removing Summers from the board. The suit also asks for a permanent injunction requiring the board to comply with state corporations code section 5222 and the Waystation’s own bylaws before removing Summers or any other member from the board.
The suit is also asking for damages due to the Waystation resulting from Colette’s breaches of fiduciary duty with an amount plus interest to be due upon an accounting, for a declaration that no leases exist between the Waystation and Colette, and for a third-party receiver to oversee the Waystation’s activities and finances.
The Waystation did not respond to calls from The Record seeking comment. No court date has yet been set for the trial.