As expected, David Miscavige, through his attorney Florida Bar past president William Schifino, filed an objection yesterday to the recent court ruling that named the Scientology leader a defendant in a labor trafficking lawsuit.
It’s a doozy.
The lawsuit was filed last April by three former Sea Org workers — Valeska Paris, and Gawain and Laura Baxter — who are all residents of Australia and who allege that they were forced into the Sea Org as children and then as adults served aboard Scientology’s floating cathedral, the Freewinds, which sails the Caribbean. The lawsuit alleges horrific abuse suffered by the three former Scientologists, and they are suing Miscavige and several Scientology subsidiaries under labor trafficking and other statutes in federal court in Tampa.
On February 14, Magistrate Judge Julie S. Sneed ruled that Valeska and the Baxters had sufficiently proved that after 27 separate attempts to serve Miscavige, they had “demonstrated due diligence in attempting to locate Miscavige and that Miscavige is actively concealing his whereabouts or evading service.” Sneed ruled that Miscavige had been served by substitution, and that he was now an official defendant in the case.
Miscavige is objecting to Sneed’s ruling in a new document asking district Judge Thomas Barber to overturn her decision. (The other institutional defendants have also filed their own objections as well, claiming that Sneed’s ruling made erroneous statements about jurisdictional and other matters.)
Schifino’s filing alleges that Magistrate Judge Sneed made many errors in her ruling, but the thing he focuses on most is the allegation made by the plaintiffs that the various Scientology entities, such as the Church of Scientology International, the Flag Service Organization, and the Flag Ship Service Organization, are “agents” for Miscavige, and that Miscavige does business in Florida which benefits him personally.
These are the same objections that were brought up in a January 20 court hearing, which Mark Bunker provided us an account of. If you remember, Bunker said it exasperated Judge Sneed the way Miscavige’s attorneys kept trying to assert that Miscavige was not doing business in Florida as “an individual.”
We know that readers are generally mystified by the basic concept here, that David Miscavige is arguing that he’s never been properly informed that he’s being sued, when he clearly must know that’s the case when he’s paying attorneys like Schifino big money to come to court and say he isn’t aware that he’s being sued. But that’s how US law works. It’s insane, we know.
So we’re going to pull out numerous passages from Miscavige’s objection so you can see how he’s arguing this time that he does no business in Florida, the Scientology institutions are not agents of his, and that he gets no personal benefit from Scientology’s work in the Sunshine State. Brace yourselves.
Mr. Miscavige has never been personally served with process in this action. Instead, Plaintiffs sought a ruling that he could be deemed served through the Florida Secretary of State, though their Motion failed to identify any statutory authorization for doing so. On February 14, 2023, Magistrate Judge Sneed denied the Motion in part, declining to find Mr. Miscavige in default, but finding that he had been “properly served with process pursuant to sections 48.181 and 48.161 of the Florida Statutes.” Because this finding was “clearly erroneous” and “contrary to law,” Mr. Miscavige objects to the Order in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a).
In granting the Motion, the Magistrate erroneously reached beyond Plaintiffs’ Motion to find support for such substitute service based on arguments raised for the first time at the hearing. In doing so, the Magistrate relied upon allegations in the Amended Complaint that were pure legal conclusions and boilerplate, misinterpreted or ignored the Amended Complaint’s specific allegations concerning Mr. Miscavige’s activities, which belied the boilerplate statements, and construed Plaintiffs’ allegations in a manner contrary to sworn affidavits submitted by other Defendants and in a manner that risks a significant encroachment on the Defendants’ First Amendment rights.
Plaintiffs are three former members of the Church of Scientology. After voluntarily serving as members of the Church’s religious order, the Sea Organization (“Sea Org”), for over a decade, they departed the religious order but continued practicing Scientology as parishioners at their local churches. Plaintiffs later filed this lawsuit against five entities associated with Scientology, as well as against Mr. Miscavige, the Chairman of the Board of Defendant RTC and the ecclesiastical leader of Scientology. The claims against Mr. Miscavige are baseless; his inclusion pure harassment. Plaintiffs’ allegations are false in many respects, including, as relevant here, the false and conclusory assertions that Church-related charitable fundraising is performed for Mr. Miscavige’s pecuniary benefit, and that the Defendant entities are somehow agents of Mr. Miscavige. Although Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on April 24, 2022 and amended on August 2, 2022, they have never personally served Mr. Miscavige. Plaintiffs attempted service at a smattering of Scientology-related entities in Florida and California. Mr. Miscavige was not present at any of these locations when service was attempted.
The Order should be set aside pursuant to Rule 72(a) as both clearly erroneous and contrary to law because the Magistrate misinterpreted the record and misapplied the relevant legal standards in granting Plaintiffs’ Motion. The Magistrate committed clear error in finding that Plaintiffs had satisfied their burden to allege that Mr. Miscavige had engaged in business in Florida in his “individual capacity,” Order at 18-22, and that their causes of action arose from Mr. Miscavige engaging in such business in Florida.
In reaching this conclusion, the Magistrate relied on arguments made by Plaintiffs’ counsel for the first time in the hearing, and looked principally to a single paragraph of the Amended Complaint, containing: (1) a litany of boilerplate assertions, such as “Miscavige has operated, conducted, engaged in, or carried on a business or business venture in Florida;” (2) allegations clearly relating to conduct undertaken on behalf of the entity Defendants, rather than in an individual capacity, such as purportedly “controlling and directing . . . Scientology’s substantial real estate holdings in Clearwater, Florida . . . providing . . . temporary quarters for visiting Scientologists;” and (3) the bare legal conclusion that each of the Scientology entities, including the Church of Scientology International itself, is the “agent” of Mr. Miscavige. The Magistrate also appeared to rely on the blatantly false assertion in the Amended Complaint that the charitable fundraising conducted by Defendant IASA is actually for Mr. Miscavige’s personal benefit. All of this constitutes clear error in several respects.
Regardless of the pleading standard to be applied, the allegations of the Amended Complaint repeatedly make plain that the alleged business conduct was not undertaken by Mr. Miscavige in his personal capacity but rather on behalf of RTC — the entity for which Mr. Miscavige serves as the Chairman — or on behalf of the religion more generally. Indeed, the allegations specifically seized on by the Magistrate leave no doubt that the alleged activity was not performed in an individual capacity. For example, the Magistrate relied on allegations that:
– Mr. Miscavige’s so-called “business contacts within Florida” included “promoting, fundraising and directing the management and operations of” Scientology organizations.
– “Miscavige has ‘continuous and systematic’ business ties to Florida through ‘negotiating and directing the purchase of real property in Florida,’ and ‘control[ling] and direct[ing]’ the management of FSO, including the ‘ownership, management and operation of Flag Base, Scientology’s substantial real property holdings in Clearwater, Florida . . . providing (among other things) temporary quarters for visiting Scientologists, facilities for classes and auditing sessions, dining and meeting facilities,’”
– “Miscavige controls and directs Defendant CSI, which conducts ‘substantial business’ through the licensing of Scientology intellectual property . . .”
Even if true, and they are not, none of those allegations involve Mr. Miscavige engaging in business in Florida in his “individual capacity,” as Fla. Stat. § 48.181 requires, see Farouki, 682 So. 2d at 1186, and Plaintiffs have never argued otherwise.
The Magistrate seemed to conclude that because Plaintiffs made the bald (and untrue) allegation that Mr. Miscavige received pecuniary benefits from the conduct of certain Defendants, Plaintiffs had somehow satisfied their burden to show that he engaged in conduct in his individual capacity. But such a ruling would be clearly contrary to the line of Florida cases holding that the actions of officers and directors, who naturally receive pecuniary benefits from their work, are not subject to service under Fla. Stat. § 48.181 when they engage in business in Florida on behalf of their employers.
Although the Amended Complaint contained no allegations of Mr. Miscavige actually conducting business activities in his individual capacity, such as purchasing land for himself or entering into contracts for himself, the Magistrate held that all of the “business” conduct of the entity Defendants could be attributed to him and treated as his own. The Magistrate reached this conclusion based upon the conclusory allegation that the entities through their association with Miscavige “serve as his agents.” This was clear error in several respects.
Plaintiffs recognize that Mr. Miscavige is the ecclesiastical leader of the Scientology religion as well as Chairman of the Board of RTC. That his actions might benefit other Scientology entities reflects his responsibilities in those positions. Plaintiffs do not even allege that Mr. Miscavige’s lack of a role with other Defendants suggest that he was acting in his individual capacity or that they are his “agent.” To the contrary, Plaintiffs’ allegation is that Mr. Miscavige “through RTC” somehow directs the other entities. That is untrue, but even Plaintiffs’ allegations are contrary to the Magistrate’s conclusion. To suggest that Mr. Miscavige is acting in an “individual capacity” when he takes actions benefitting Scientology broadly is to ignore his role in the religion as well as Plaintiffs’ own allegations, and is an extraordinary judicial dismissal of the manner in which a religion organizes its internal ecclesiastic affairs. It is also clear error.
In addition, the allegation that the entity Defendants—all recognized tax-exempt religious organizations—engaged in “business” activities, is fundamentally at odds with the way Florida law defines that term. The Florida Local Business Tax Act contains the definitions of religious and charitable organizations specifically removing them from the definition of “business” entities. Fla. Stat. § 205.022. The term “business” does not include “the customary religious, charitable, or educational activities of nonprofit religious, nonprofit charitable, and nonprofit educational institutions in this state.” In contrast the term “Religious institutions” is used to define churches and ecclesiastical or denominational organizations.
The Magistrate’s sweeping decision to treat a series of tax-exempt religious entities as the mere “agents” of Mr. Miscavige not only denigrates the legitimacy of Scientology as a religion, but also the Church’s First Amendment freedoms, as reflected in the ministerial exception and ecclesiastic abstention doctrine. The Supreme Court has held that the First and Fourteenth Amendments afford religions a special place under the law, and a religion’s determinations of church governance must be viewed as final.
The Magistrate’s broad conclusion that, for the purposes of service of process, all Scientology organizations may be treated as “agents” of Mr. Miscavige, engaging in “business” for his personal benefit rather than religious charitable activities, intrudes into the religious affairs of the Church no less than a determination that every Roman Catholic church or charity is but an agent of the Pope for his pecuniary benefit.
These last three really kill us. Do you see what they’re saying here? It’s insulting to say that Scientology does “business” in Florida because it’s a religion. It’s insulting to say that Scientology is merely an “agent” for Miscavige, who is no way a ruthless micro-managing tyrant. And third, saying these things is like saying the Catholic Church is just out to make cash for the Pope. (Miscavige loves to compare himself to the Pope.)
These are all-timers, people. And we wonder if Judge Barber will realize that Scientology is reaching for the smelling salts here.
The filing also argues that because the abuse alleged by the Sea Org workers occurred in international waters, and not in Florida, it also shows the ruling was in error.
The only Plaintiff who even contends she met Mr. Miscavige is Ms. Paris, who specifically alleges that she briefly spoke with him aboard the Freewinds in or before 2007. That interaction is not alleged to be tortious in any way and it is thus unconnected to Plaintiffs’ claims. Moreover, Plaintiffs allege the Freewinds has never been in territorial waters, and as such the interaction can neither demonstrate a nexus with Florida nor have any relevance to a cause of action, as the TVPRA had no extraterritorial effect before December 2008. This alleged interaction is innocuous, unconnected to Florida or the claims asserted, and thus entirely irrelevant.
So, for all those reasons and more, Miscavige wants Judge Barber to overrule Magistrate Judge Sneed’s ruling and determine that he has still not been served this lawsuit.
What do you think are his chances?
Rizza Islam trial likely to be delayed
Well, this probably shouldn’t surprise anyone. The long delayed trial of Rizza Islam on felony charges of defrauding Medi-Cal in an elaborate scheme that was run out of a jackleg Scientology Narconon drug rehab clinic about a decade ago was scheduled to begin jury selection today.
But we’re hearing that the defense will be asking for another delay today, and that the prosecution is not likely to oppose it.
Doesn’t anyone want to try this case? We first reported the charges way back in 2015, and in the meantime Rizza has managed to get himself named one of the biggest online menaces in the country. But his day in court is apparently going to be moved back yet again. Go figure.
Here’s how you can see ‘Brothers Broken’
Yesterday we mentioned that Geoff Levin’s documentary Brothers Broken has been picked up by the Cinequest film festival.
We neglected to give you a link where you can now see the film for yourself. Please do!
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Episode 2, on the Comm Course and the TRs, goes out today at noon Eastern!
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I, for one, is not in the slightest puzzled by the claims made on behalf of defendant David “he is NOT insane!” Miscavige - they are all variations on “your laws do not apply to me.”
What I am not at all clear on, is the reason that the courts of the USA are taking this shit seriously.
Business: means any trade or business regardless of its for-profit or not-for-profit status. See Florida Statutes 668.802
Defining “business” in a way that excludes nonprofits may be singled out in certain chapters, but does not reflect all of law in the state of Florida.