Members of a now-dissolved film company who sued a former associate for allegedly withdrawing $25,000 meant to be used on a project examining inequities in inner-city education have been awarded that amount, plus interest and costs, by a judge.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kristin Escalante granted a default judgment on Friday in favor of Rising Films LLC and against Andrea Thompson. The company brought the suit Feb. 18, alleging breach of contract and that she put her interests ahead of those of the others in the company.

Escalante ordered Thompson to pay not only the $25,000, but also $3,205 in interest and $3,418 in costs. Escalante found that Thompson failed to answer the complaint or defend it within the time allowed by law.

Thompson could not be immediately reached.

Until its dissolution, Rising Films was a Los Angeles-based film production company investigating education inequities in the nation through the stories of students, teachers, families and activists who experienced such inequities in Detroit, the suit states. The company consisted of Brent Palmer, Samara Rosenbaum and Brian George, who sought to help the Detroit community share how the state of Michigan allegedly denies brown and Black children their right to education, according to the suit.

“The three have worked tirelessly for over three years to create a feature-length documentary that elevates the voices of community members and tells the story of education inequality in Detroit,” the suit states.

The project began in 2017, when Rosenbaum traveled to Detroit and met students who were suing the state of Michigan for denying them the right to literacy, the suit states. She set out to make a documentary lifting the voices and stories of community members impacted by this public education crisis.

Shortly after, George and Palmer joined the project as co-director and producer, respectively, and the three, each based in Los Angeles, spent more than a year interviewing Detroit community members and filming the documentary, the suit states.

During this period, Rosenbaum, George and Palmer were introduced to Thompson, who had been involved in the literacy lawsuit. Thompson was brought onto the project in an advisory capacity and provided input on the community perspective, and introduced Rosenbaum, George and Palmer to community members in Detroit, the suit states.

Thompson did not participate in the day-to-day management of the project nor did she make any production decisions, and her limited involvement in the film diminished as production continued, the suit states.

To secure funding for the film, Rosenbaum, George and Palmer formed Rising Films, the suit states. They invited Thompson to be a member of the company along with the three of them, and the company was headquartered in Los Angeles, the suit states.

To secure funds necessary to finish the documentary, Rising Films applied for and received a $100,000 production grant from the Ford Foundation in December 2019 that was placed into a bank account, the suit states. Thompson knew that use of the Ford Foundation grant money was strictly limited, but she withdrew $25,000 last March 6 without notifying Rising Films or any of its members and said she wanted to use the money for unrelated business opportunities, the suit alleges.

“She neither requested nor received the majority member approval required by the operating agreement before wrongfully withdrawing the funds,” the suit states.

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