Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Imagine Files Suit against Five Grads; but, the Orthodontists Say the Embattled Company Is in Breach of Contract

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Imagine Files Suit against Five Grads; but, the Orthodontists Say the Embattled Company Is in Breach of Contract

Article excerpt

Byline: URVAKSH KARKARIA

Ponte Vedra Beach-based Imagine Orthodontics and an affiliate are suing at least five Jacksonville University orthodontists for breach of contract, the defendants' attorney said Thursday. It's the latest volley in a dispute that erupted after the financially strapped chain of orthodontic practices failed to give the doctors the practices, or the paychecks, they were promised.

The Imagine affiliate, Orthodontic Education, could seek more than $700,000 from each doctor, based on the terms of their agreements, Ronnie Bitman, an attorney representing the JU graduates, said. Bitman, who works at Winter Park-based Powell & Pearson, declined to make his clients available for comment citing the lawsuits.

Imagine CEO Gasper Lazzara did not respond to questions e-mailed on Thursday. The plaintiffs' attorney, meanwhile, referred calls to Mitchell Legler, an attorney with Kirschner & Legler. Legler did not return calls.

Imagine Orthodontics, which launched last year, staffs its nationwide chain of practices with newly-minted orthodontists. Imagine, through Orthodontic Education, pays for tuition and living expenses while the dentists complete their postgraduate program. In return, the doctors staff new or existing Imagine practices for least seven years. Recent graduates were to start out earning $150,000 to $225,000 annually.

In July, the Times-Union reported that Imagine Orthodontics and Orthodontic Education had overextended themselves financially and had to pink-slip staff and stop funding the tuition programs at three universities, including JU. Imagine had once planned to unveil 25 to 30 practices nationwide each year. But, unable to find the capital to sustain that growth, Imagine put the brakes on its growth and halted its education support.

The suits were filed after Bitman sent Imagine a letter in September notifying the company it had breached his clients' employment contracts for failing to pay the doctors their salaries, open their practices and pay their moving expenses as agreed to in the contract. …

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