Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ex-Scientologists Must Submit Fraud Claims To Internal Arbitration

A Florida federal district court last Friday ruled that two former members of the Church of Scientology who are suing for return of over $400,000 in donations and deposits for services they made to the Church are bound by the arbitration clause in some 40 Enrollment Applications they signed.  In Garcia v. Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization, Inc., (MD FL, March 13, 2015), plaintiffs claimed they were fraudulently induced into contributing substantial sums and that they paid some $69,000 in deposits toward services that were never provided. (See prior posting.) The court held that neutral principles of Florida law can be applied to determine the enforceability of the arbitration clause without impermissibly deciding religious doctrine.

The court rejected plaintiffs' claim that the arbitration clauses that relegated plaintiffs' to the Church's internal arbitration procedures are procedurally unconscionable. It held that even though the Church did not have detailed arbitration rules, the procedures in the Enrollment Applications are minimally adequate. It also concluded that the clauses are broad enough to cover all disputes, not just those related to the Enrollment Applications.

Finally the court held that the First Amendment precludes it from considering plaintiffs' claim that they cannot receive a fair hearing because they have been declared "suppressive" by the Church, and Scientologists in good standing are prohibited by Church doctrine from communicating with suppressive individuals. The court said:
As compelling as Plaintiffs' argument might otherwise be, the First Amendment prohibits consideration of this contention, since it necessarily would require an analysis and interpretation of Scientology doctrine. That would constitute a prohibited intrusion into religious doctrine, discipline, faith, and ecclesiastical rule, custom or law by the court....
Tampa Bay Times and The Underground Bunker report on the decision.