(FOX 9) - The Bad Rooster food truck wants the bad news to go away.
The reviews of their food are great.
The problem: Two sisters who claim the Minnetonka food truck finances a cult, orchestrated by its co-owner Soulaire Allerai, that has taken over their mother’s life.
On Friday, Hennepin County Judge Joseph Klein ordered mediation to resolve a defamation and civil conspiracy lawsuit filed against the sisters, Kelly Abedi and Angela Hummelgard.
He’s giving both sides three weeks to work it out. If they can’t, the lawsuit will resume.
Judge Klein declined to issue an injunction sought by Bad Rooster that would have prohibited the sisters from making public statements about the food truck while the lawsuit is being resolved.
The sisters say they became estranged from their mother, Mary Ring, more than a decade ago after she joined a group called Soulful Journey, which is also led by Allerai.
The sisters say the Bad Rooster food truck is used to finance the activities of Soulful Journey.
The sisters and a half-dozen other former followers and estranged family members shared their experience with the group with the FOX 9 Investigators.
"We are asking that they stop defaming my clients, they stop calling vendors that my clients do business with, and they stop harassing my clients," said attorney Steven Liening, an attorney for Bad Rooster and Allerai.
Liening said he was requesting the injunction before the defamation lawsuit is litigated to stop any further damage to Bad Rooster’s reputation.
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Liening acknowledged the sisters have a "tortured" relationship with their mother, but he said Bad Rooster has nothing to do with it.
In a court filing, Liening said at least three vendors had stopped working with Bad Rooster because of the allegations. He said in court Friday there are now more vendors who have quit.
"It’s obvious what the hazard is when this is out there spreading like wildfire," said Liening.
But attorneys for both sisters argued that they are merely stating their opinion based on their experience with the group. In other words, the truth as they know it.
"My client does have firsthand experience with this group both as a participant, and to the extent her mother is still a participant of the group," said Stacy Sever, the attorney for Abedi.
Leining argued that the Bad Rooster didn’t even exist when their mother, who changed her name to Cianna LaJoie, joined the group in 2011.
But exhibits submitted to the court show in May 2020 Allerai posted on social media, "We’re using the food truck as a way to cover the rent for 13+ small businesses that rent space at the Soulful Journey Wellness Center."
Defense attorneys have filed affidavits from five other people who had similar experiences with Soulful Journey and Allerai.
If the case goes to trial, it may hinge on whether someone’s opinion, even opinion based on their first-hand experience, could still be considered defamatory.
Defense attorneys for the sisters said those issues could be litigated at trial, rather than have an injunction deprive them of their right to free speech.
There is also the matter of what is a "cult" to begin with, and whether it is defamatory.
"I have searched high and low, and there is no legal definition of cult or case law about what a cult should be," said Sever, the attorney for Abedi.