By: Michael Hess Re: Wollersheim v. Scientology [by Elvis Cole] Area : ALT.SOCIETY.CIVIL-L

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By: Michael Hess Re: Wollersheim v. Scientology [by Elvis Cole] * Area : ALT.SOCIETY.CIVIL-LIBERTIES (ALT.SOCIETY.CIVIL-LIBERTIES) From: anon-remailer@xs4all.nl (Name withheld by request) Organization: Mail to Usenet Gateway In Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology, 212 Cal.App.3d 872, 260 Cal.Rptr. 331 (2d Dist. 1989), the Court of Appeal considered the appeal by the Church of Scientology from the jury verdict and trial court judgment in favor of Larry Wollersheim. The Court of Appeal opinion details the reprehensible actions the Church of Scientology took against Mr. Wollersheim. As delineated below, these actions included the disclosure and wrongful use of private information divulged during confidential auditing sessions, "fair game," the imposition of onerous "freeloader debt," and even physical restraint to coerce and intimidate Mr. Wollersheim. The Court of Appeal stated: "Construing the facts most favorably to the judgment, as we must, respondent Larry Wollersheim was an incipient manic-depressive for most of his life. Appellant Scientology and its leaders were aware of Wollersheim's susceptibility to this mental disorder: What appellant did to him during and after his years in Scientology aggravated Wollersheim's mental condition, driving him into deep depressive episodes and causing him severe mental anguish. Furthermore, Scientology engaged in a practice of retribution and threatened retribution -- often called "fair game" -- against members who left or otherwise posed a threat to the organization. This practice coerced Wollersheim into continued participation in the other practices of Scientology which were harming him emotionally. Wollersheim first became acquainted with Scientology in early 1969 when he attended a lecture at the "Church of Scientology of San Francisco." During the next few months he completed some basic courses at the San Francisco institution. He then returned to his home state of Wisconsin and did not resume his Scientology training for almost two years. When Wollersheim did start again it was at the appellant, Church of Scientology of California, headquartered in Los Angeles. From 1972 through 1979 Wollersheim underwent "auditing" at both the basic and advanced levels. In 1973 he worked several months as a staff member at the Church of Scientology Celebrity Center located in Los Angeles. In 1974, despite his repeated objections, Wollersheim was persuaded to participate in auditing aboard a ship maintained by Scientology. While on the ship, Wollersheim was forced to undergo a strenuous regime which began around 6 a.m. and continued until 1 a.m. the next morning. Further, Wollersheim and others were forced to sleep nine deep in the ship's hold. During his six weeks under these conditions, Wollersheim lost fifteen pounds. Wollersheim attempted to escape from the ship because he felt he "was dying and losing [his] mind." His escape was thwarted by Scientology members who seized Wollersheim and held him captive until he agreed to remain and continue with the auditing and other religious practices taking place on the vessel. One of the psychiatric witnesses testified Wollersheim's experience on the ship was one of five cataclysmic events underlying the diagnosis of his mental illness and its cause. At another stage Scientology auditors convinced him to "disconnect" from his wife and his parents and other family members because they had expressed concerns about Scientology and Wollersheim's continued membership. "Disconnect" meant he was no longer to have any contact with his family. There also was evidence of a practice called "freeloader debt." "Freeloader debt" was accumulated when a staff member received Church courses, training or auditing at a reduced rate. If the member later chose to leave, he or she was presented with a bill for the difference between the full price normally charged to the public and the price originally charged to the member. Appellant maintained a "freeloader debt" account for Wollersheim. During his years with Scientology Wollersheim also started and operated several businesses. The most successful was the last, a service which took and printed photographic portraits. Most of the employees and many of the customers of this business were Scientologists. By 1979, Wollersheim's mental condition worsened to the point he actively contemplated suicide. Wollersheim began experiencing personality changes and pain. When the Church learned of Wollersheim's condition, Wollersheim was sent to the Flag Land Base for "repair." During auditing at Flag Land Base, Wollersheim's mental state deteriorated further. He fled the base and wandered the streets. A guardian later arranged to meet Wollersheim. At that meeting, the guardian told Wollersheim he was prohibited from ever speaking of his problems with a priest, a doctor or a psychiatrist. Ultimately Wollersheim became so convinced auditing was causing him psychiatric problems he was willing to risk becoming a target of "freeloader debt" and "fair game." Evidence was introduced that, at least during the time relevant to Wollersheim's case, "fair game" was a practice of retribution Scientology threatened to inflict on "suppressives," which included people who left the organization or anyone who could pose a threat to the organization. Once someone was identified as a "suppressive," all Scientologists were authorized to do anything to "neutralize" that individual -- economically, politically, and psychologically. After Wollersheim left the organization Scientology leaders initiated a "fair game" campaign which among other things was calculated to destroy Wollersheim's photography enterprise. They instructed some Scientology members to leave Wollersheim's employ, told others not to place any new orders with him and to renege on bills they owed on previous purchases from the business. This strategy shortly drove Wollersheim's photography business into bankruptcy. His mental condition deteriorated further and he ended up under psychiatric care." Wollersheim, 212 Cal.App.3d at 878-80, 260 Cal.Rptr. at 335-36. Based on these facts, the Court of Appeal held: "There is substantial evidence to support the jury's finding [in favor of Wollersheim's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress]. First, the Church's conduct was manifestly outrageous. Using its position as his religious leader, the Church and its agents coerced Wollersheim into continuing "auditing" although his sanity was repeatedly threatened by this practice. (See pp. 892-894, post.) Wollersheim was compelled to abandon his wife and his family through the policy of disconnect. When his mental illness reached such a level he actively planned his suicide, he was forbidden to seek professional help. Finally, when Wollersheim was able to leave the Church, it subjected him to financial ruin through its policy of "fair game." Any one of these acts exceeds the "bounds usually tolerated by a decent society," so as to constitute outrageous conduct. In aggregate, there can be no question this conduct warrants liability unless it is privileged as constitutionally protected religious activity. (See pp. 883-886, post.) Second, the Church's actions, if not wholly calculated to cause emotional distress, unquestionably constituted reckless disregard for the likelihood of causing emotional distress. The policy of fair game, by its nature, was intended to punish the person who dared to leave the Church. Here, the Church actively encouraged its members to destroy Wollersheim's business. Further, by physically restraining Wollersheim from leaving the Church's ship, and subjecting him to further auditing despite his protests, the Church ignored Wollersheim's emotional state and callously compelled him to continue in a practice known to cause him emotional distress. Third, Wollersheim suffered severe emotional distress. Indeed, his distress was such that he actively considered suicide and suffered such psychiatric injury as to require prolonged professional therapy. (See Fletcher v. Western National Life Ins. Co. (1970) 10 Cal.App.3d 376, 397 [89 Cal.Rptr. 78, 47 A.L.R.3d 286] [severe emotional distress "may consist of any highly unpleasant mental reaction such as fright, grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, chagrin, disappointment or worry"].) Finally, there is substantial evidence the Church's conduct proximately caused the severe emotional distress. Wollersheim's bankruptcy and resulting mental distress was the direct result of the Church's declaration that he was fair game. Additionally, according to the psychiatric testimony auditing and disconnect substantially aggravated his mental illness and triggered several severe depressive episodes. In sum, there is ample evidence to support the jury's verdict on Wollersheim's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress." Wollersheim, 212 Cal.App.3d at 881-82, 260 Cal.Rptr. at 336-37 (brackets added). Based on the evidence, the Court of Appeal further found that: "Scientology, unlike most other religions or organizations claiming a religious purpose, uses various sanctions and the threat of sanctions to induce continued membership in the Church and observance of its practices. These sanctions include "fair game," "freeloader debt" and even physical restraint. There was nothing in the evidence presented at this trial suggesting new recruits and members undergoing lower-level "auditing" were subject to sanctions if they decided to leave. Nor was there evidence these recruits or "lower level" auditors would be aware any program of sanctions even existed and thus might be intimidated by it. But there was evidence others, like Wollersheim, who rose to higher levels of auditing and especially those, like Wollersheim, who became staff members -- the rough equivalent of becoming a neophyte priest or minister -- were aware of these sanctions and what awaited them if they chose to "defect." Thus, their continued participation in "auditing" and the other practices of Scientology was not necessarily voluntary. Wollersheim was familiar with the whole spectrum of sanctions and indeed was the target of some during and after his affiliation with Scientology. He first learned of one of these forms of retribution, "fair game," in 1970. He also knew that, despite the Church's public rejection of the fair game practice, it continued to use fair game against targeted ex-Scientologists throughout the 1970's. Under Scientology's "fair game" policy, someone who threatened Scientology by leaving the church "may be deprived of property or injured by any means by a Scientologist . . . . [The targeted defector] may be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed." Wollersheim feared "fair game" would be practiced against him if he refused further auditing and left the Church of Scientology. As described in the previous section, those fears proved to be accurate. Scientology leaders indeed became very upset by his defection and retaliated against his business. But "fair game" was not the only sanction which Scientology held over Wollersheim's head during his years as an "upper level" auditor and occasional staff member. Scientology also used a tactic called "freeloader debt" as a means of coercing Wollersheim's continued participation in the church and obedience to its practices. "Freeloader debt" was devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard as a means of punishing members who, inter alia, chose to leave the Church or refused to disconnect from a suppressive person. "Freeloader debt" was accumulated when a staff member received Church courses, training or auditing at a reduced rate. The Church maintained separate records which listed the discounts allowed. If the member later chose to leave, he or she was presented with a bill for the difference between the full price normally charged to the public and the price originally charged to the member.n2 A person who stayed in the Church for five years could easily accumulate a "freeloader debt" of between $ 10,000 and $ 50,000. Wollersheim was familiar with the "freeloader debt" policy as well as the "fair game" policy. He also knew the Church was recording the courses and auditing sessions he was receiving at the discounted rate. The threat of facing that amount of debt represented a powerful economic sanction acting to coerce continued participation in auditing as the core religious practice of the Church of Scientology. Wollersheim, 212 Cal.App.3d at 893-94 , 260 Cal.Rptr. 344-45 (footnote omitted). The Court of Appeal further explained: "There also was evidence Wollersheim accepted some of his auditing under threat of physical coercion. In 1974, despite his repeated objections, Wollersheim was induced to participate in auditing aboard a ship Scientology maintained as part of its Rehabilitation Project Force. The Church obtained Wollersheim's attendance by using a technique dubbed "bait and badger." As the name suggests, this tactic deployed any number of Church members against a recalcitrant member who was resisting a Church order. They would alternately promise the "bait" of some reward and "badger" him with verbal scare tactics. In the instant case, five Scientologists "baited and badgered" Wollersheim continuously for three weeks before he finally gave in and agreed to attend the Rehabilitation Project Force. But these verbal threats and psychological pressure tactics were only the beginning of Wollersheim's ordeal. While on the ship, Wollersheim was forced to undergo a strenuous regime which began around 6 a.m. and continued until 1 a.m. the next morning. The regime included mornings of menial and repetitive cleaning of the ship followed by an afternoon of study or coauditing. The evenings were spent working and attending meetings or conferences. Wollersheim and others were forced to sleep in the ship's hole. A total of 30 people were stacked 9 high in this hole without proper ventilation. During his six weeks under these conditions, Wollersheim lost fifteen pounds. Ultimately, Wollersheim felt he could bear the regime no longer. He attempted to escape from the ship because as he testified later: "I was dying and losing my mind." But his escape effort was discovered. Several Scientology members seized Wollersheim and held him captive. They released him only when he agreed to remain and continue with the auditing and other "religious practices" taking place on the vessel. One of the psychiatric witnesses testified that in her opinion Wollersheim's experience on the ship was one of five cataclysmic events underlying her diagnosis of his mental illness and its cause. As the psychiatrist reported, following this incident, Wollersheim felt the Church "broke him." In any event, this episode demonstrated the Church was willing to physically coerce Wollersheim into continuing with his auditing. Moreover they were willing to do so even when it was apparent this practice was causing him serious mental distress and he preferred to cease or at least suspend this particular religious practice. Not only was the particular series of auditing sessions on the ship conducted under threat of physical compulsion, but the demonstrated willingness to use physical coercion infected later auditing sessions. The fact the Church was willing to use physical coercion on this occasion to compel Wollersheim's continued participation in auditing added yet another element to the coercive environment under which he took part in the auditing process. There was substantial evidence here from which the jury could have concluded Wollersheim was subjecting himself to auditing because of the coercive environment with which Scientology had surrounded him. To leave the Church or to cease auditing he had to run the risk he would become a target of "fair game," face an enormous burden of "freeloader debt," and even confront physical restraint. A religious practice which takes place in the context of this level of coercion has less religious value than one the recipient engages in voluntarily. Even more significantly, it poses a greater threat to society to have coerced religious practices inflicted on its citizens." Wollersheim, 212 Cal.App.3d at 894-95, 260 Cal.Rptr. 345-46. Similarly, the Court of Appeal concluded: "Here Scientology used coercion -- "fair game," "freeloader debt," and in this instance, at least, physical restraint, along with the threat one or more of these sanctions will be deployed -- to prevent its members from leaving the Church." Wollersheim, 212 Cal.App.3d at 896, 260 Cal.Rptr. at 346. The Court also found that the Church disclosed confidential information divulged during auditing sessions and used it against Mr. Wollersheim: "There is substantial evidence Wollersheim divulged private information during auditing sessions under an explicit or implicit promise the information would remain confidential. Moreover, there is substantial evidence Scientology leaders and employees shared this confidential information and used it to plan and implement a "fair game" campaign against Wollersheim." Wollersheim, 212 Cal.App.3d at 899, 260 Cal.Rptr. at 349. After finding that the jury awarded $30 million in compensatory and punitive damages was excessive, the Court of Appeal concluded: "The judgment as to the cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional injury is modified to reduce the compensatory damages to $ 500,000 and the punitive damages to $ 2 million. In all other respects the judgment is affirmed." Wollersheim, 212 Cal.App.3d at 907-908, 260 Cal.Rptr. at 355. The Church of Scientology appealed this decision twice to the United State Supreme Court, and twice to the California Supreme Court. The Church of Scientology lost all of those appeals. The decision is now final. For anyone who doubts this, the full citation and subsequent history of the case is: Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology, 212 Cal.App.3d 872, 260 Cal.Rptr. 331 (2d Dist. 1989), review denied, (Cal. Oct. 26, 1989), review denied, mot. granted, 495 U.S. 902, 110 S.Ct. 1920, 109 L.Ed.2d 284 (1990), cert. denied, 495 U.S. 910, 110 S.Ct. 1937, 109 L.Ed.2d 300 (1990), vacated, remanded, 499 U.S. 914, 111 S.Ct. 1298, 113 L.Ed.2d 234 (1991), on remand, 4 Cal.App.4th 1074, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 532 (2d Dist. 1992), reh'g denied, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 532 (Cal.App. 2d Dist. 1992), review granted, 10 Cal.Rptr.2d 182 (Cal. 1992), review dismissed, cause remanded, (Cal. July 15, 1993), cert. denied, 114 S.Ct. 1216, 127 L.Ed.2d 562 (1994). -- Elvis Cole

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