Baxter v. Miscavige
Public Justice is co-counsel in this case in U.S. District Court in Florida on behalf of three former Scientology members. These former members brought claims for human trafficking and forced labor against the Church of Scientology, various other Scientology entities, and David Miscavige, the head of Scientology.
The Plaintiffs claim that, as young children, they were taken from their parents, prevented from attending any accredited school, and forced to work for Scientology. This was all part of Scientology’s “Cadet Org” and “Sea Org” programs, and the working conditions were punishing. Plaintiffs were eventually sent to work aboard the Freewinds cruise ship, where they were isolated from others and their passports taken. Plaintiffs say that they experienced systematic physical, sexual, and emotional abuse aboard the Freewinds and in Scientology labor camps in Florida and Australia. They also allege that Scientology indebted and threatened them, making it financially, physically, and psychologically impossible for them to leave.
As part of the scheme to control Plaintiffs, they were ordered under threat of punishment to sign complicated legal documents that they were not permitted to read. When they were on the verge of gaining their freedom from Scientology, they were then directed to sign more documents before they would be allowed to leave or have their passports returned. These documents contained oppressive and one-sided confidentiality provisions and releases of virtually all their legal rights, including their right to have their case heard in court. Instead, the agreements provided that all disputes would be decided in a secretive religious arbitration, where decisions would be made by Scientologists, according to Scientology laws, and under procedures made up by Scientology. After Plaintiffs filed their lawsuit under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) in federal court in Florida, Scientology moved to compel Plaintiffs into the religious arbitration.
Public Justice’s Role
Public Justice took the lead in briefing the arbitration issues, arguing:
- Plaintiffs never agreed to arbitration in the first place because they were forced to sign the agreements under duress and they were not given an opportunity to read them or understand what they said.
- Forcing Plaintiffs into a religious arbitration under Scientology law would prevent them from vindicating their rights under the TVPRA.
- Forcing them into religious arbitration would violate their First Amendment right to leave their religion.
- The agreements were “unconscionable” both because of the coercive circumstances in which they were signed and their one-sided terms.
On February 14, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled that Defendant David Miscavige has been officially served after avoiding process servers more than 27 times. Defendant Miscavige has 21 days to answer or otherwise respond to the initial Complaint.