Diet doctor Bernstein sues former partner - Globe and Mail

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The diet treatments of Stanley K. Bernstein who claims to have helped hundreds of thousands of people "shed millions of excess pounds" are at the centre of a legal battle between the well-known weight-loss physician and a former business associate.

The central issue in the dispute, which is scheduled to go to trial in Ontario Superior Court on Monday, is whether there are unique aspects to the diet services provided by the doctor who widely advertises a program that will result in the loss of 10 or more pounds per month, without exercise, "guaranteed."

Dr. Bernstein is seeking $10.5-million in damages from Scott Seagrist and his partner, with allegations that confidential information was used improperly to steal clients and benefit his own obesity clinics.

In response, Dr. Seagrist has claimed that far from being unique, the weight-loss techniques practised by Dr. Bernstein are public knowledge. Dr. Seagrist is seeking $10-million in damages from Dr. Bernstein, alleging that he acted in a "high-handed and malicious" manner which led to the dissolution of their business agreement in 2006. None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Dr. Bernstein has operated weight loss clinics for more than 35 years. He entered into business agreements with Dr. Seagrist in 1996 and 1997 that related to the operation of one obesity clinic in Kitchener and two in London, Ont. A numbered company was also created, with both doctors receiving 50 per cent of the shares, according to court documents.

Many of the terms of the business agreements are in dispute in the legal proceeding, which began with the lawsuit filed by Dr. Bernstein in December, 2006

One of the issues is whether Dr. Seagrist owes Dr. Bernstein a $500,000 "training fee" for information he received about operating an obesity clinic. Confidential "trade secrets" about the Dr. Bernstein diet methods were provided to Dr. Seagrist, the court documents allege. A "diet manual" and "recipe book" distributed to clients "are original literary works" and the copyright belongs to Dr. Bernstein, he claims in the documents.

Dr. Seagrist, who played three seasons of minor league pro hockey in the mid 1970s before he became a doctor, denies all of the allegations. "The techniques, knowledge and methods employed in the operation of health, diet and obesity clinics and alleged to be confidential information and trade secrets, are widely known among medical professionals," he states in the counter-claim filed in court. Dr. Seagrist also disputes the claim by Dr. Bernstein that his written materials are "original literary works" or that his diet methods are unique.

While a Superior Court judge agreed with a request by Dr. Bernstein to seal some of his clinic documents, the doctors' websites detail methods that include vitamin injections combined with low-calorie diets. Dr. Bernstein guarantees weight loss of 10 pounds per month, with a possible reduction of as much as 20 pounds. The "Dr. Seagrist diet" listed on his website, suggests a weight loss of 15 to 20 pounds per month, also with a low-calorie and "balanced" diet and vitamins.

Jonathan Rosenstein, who represents Dr. Seagrist, said he expects his client's position will be "vindicated" at trial. Dr. Bernstein is represented by lawyer Antonio Turco, who declined comment.

It is expected that both doctors will testify at the civil trial.

Special to the Globe and Mail

30 Sep, 2011

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