DAVID MISCAVIGE: YOU HAVE BEEN SERVED
“The court finds that Miscavige has been properly served” says the order issued this afternoon by Tampa federal Magistrate Judge Julie S. Sneed, which granted in part, and denied in part, the motion that plaintiffs in the Baxter v Scientology labor trafficking lawsuit had filed, claiming that Scientology leader David Miscavige had been evading their process servers.
Miscavige now has 21 days to answer the lawsuit, and he’s an official defendant in the case.
Hanging over the lawsuit, however, is the prospect that Judge Thomas Barber is considering whether to grant Scientology’s motions to force the case into Scientology’s own brand of “religious arbitration.”
But for now, anyway, Miscavige is a defendant in the case, after the plaintiffs convinced the court that they had done what they could to find him.
While Miscavige repeatedly asserts that Plaintiffs have attempted to effectuate service at the wrong address or addresses at which he was not present, Miscavige has never provided Plaintiffs or the court with the correct address.
Plaintiffs have sufficiently demonstrated due diligence in attempting to locate Miscavige and that Miscavige is actively concealing his whereabouts or evading service.
Judge Sneed also went into the issue of jurisdiction, because Scientology had tried its usual tricks, saying that Miscavige did no business in Florida, that the lawsuit wasn’t based in Florida anyway, that Miscavige was just an officer of one Scientology subsidiary and didn’t have anything to do with the lawsuit’s allegations, and so on.
But the court found that the plaintiffs have properly alleged that Miscavige was in control of things, necessary to making him a defendant in the lawsuit. (That doesn’t make those allegations true, that’s the burden that the plaintiffs have for a possible future trial to prove.)
The Amended Complaint contains sufficient factual allegations that Miscavige operated or conducted a business venture in Florida in his individual capacity, i.e., outside of his role as a corporate director, officer, or shareholder of the Organizational Defendants, and for his own personal pecuniary gain.
The lawsuit was first filed on April 28 by Valeska Paris and a married couple, Gawain and Laura Baxter, who allege that they were forced into the Sea Org as children, suffered neglect and harsh punishments as children and adults, and served as virtual prisoners aboard the ship Freewinds, Scientology’s floating cathedral that sails the Caribbean. Valeska also alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by other Sea Org workers, and then had been punished for speaking up about it.
Scientology responded by filing motions to compel arbitration, a strategy that has largely been a successful one for the church in recent years. The church says that Valeska and the Baxters signed contracts between 2003 and 2015 that obliged them not to sue but to take their grievances to Scientology’s internal form of arbitration. Also, Scientology is pointing out that a 2013 lawsuit filed by two former Scientologists, Luis and Rocio Garcia, was forced into arbitration in the same Tampa courtroom, and it was upheld on appeal by the federal Eleventh Circuit. The same fate should apply to the trafficking lawsuit, Scientology asserts.
The plaintiffs responded that there was no valid arbitration agreement because the documents Scientology has presented are conflicting and were signed under duress, among other reasons.
In September, the plaintiffs filed declarations detailing how they were forced to sign the contracts and were not given the ability to actually read them.
And at a November 17 hearing, described for us by Mark Bunker, Judge Barber asked a Scientology attorney, if a Sea Org member literally had a gun to their head while they were signing these contracts, wouldn’t that be duress? The Scientology attorney said and asserted that the contract would still apply.
But now Judge Barber is saying that neither side addressed this issue adequately, and he wants to hear from both of them. Can the court, he asks, make a determination that the contracts were signed under duress, or is that saved for the arbitrators?
That’s the next battle in this major litigation war with Scientology. But for now, David Miscavige himself has been named a defendant.
We’re going to try to post the entire document for you here so you can go over it yourself.
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