Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Clearwater

Clearwater woman drops lawsuit against Scientology alleging child sexual abuse

Originally filed last year in Miami-Dade circuit court, the case was transferred to Pinellas County in May and dropped June 5
In her lawsuit, Jane Doe alleged she was repeatedly sexually abused as a child in Scientology’s care.
In her lawsuit, Jane Doe alleged she was repeatedly sexually abused as a child in Scientology’s care. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jun. 11, 2020
Updated Jun. 11, 2020

A woman has dropped the lawsuit she filed last year against the Church of Scientology that alleged she was repeatedly sexually abused as a child in Scientology’s care, including as a kindergartner at the church’s Clearwater Academy.

The woman, named as Jane Doe in court records, filed her complaint in Miami-Dade circuit court in September, becoming the third lawsuit lodged against Scientology and its leader David Miscavige in 2019.

On May 15, a Miami-Dade judge granted Scientology’s request to transfer the case to Pinellas County. Doe dismissed the case on June 5, according to court records.

A legal team led by Philadelphia-based victims’ rights attorney Brian Kent represented the complainants in all three 2019 lawsuits against the church.

Kent last year described the litigation as an effort to expose Scientology’s structure and policies that allegedly enable abuse, human trafficking and harassment of critics. But the dismissal of Doe’s case is the second blow to Kent’s legal offensive: in January, a Los Angeles judge granted the church’s request to move former Scientologist Valerie Haney’s human trafficking and stalking lawsuit into the church’s internal arbitration.

Kent did not respond to a phone call or email requesting comment. The Tampa Bay Times is aware of Doe’s identity but is not naming her because she is an alleged victim of sexual abuse. Doe told the Times she decided to drop the lawsuit because of unresponsiveness from her legal team and after getting an update from the Clearwater Police Department about its investigation into her complaints. She described the update as disappointing.

Police Chief Dan Slaughter said the case was open as of Thursday.

When asked to comment on the dismissal of Doe’s case, Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw said on Thursday the Times should apologize for its reporting last year on the filing of what he described as a "factually and legally meritless lawsuit.”

“The dismissal of this matter was inevitable; as the Church told you at the outset: “The Church will expose this complaint for the disgusting sham and bigotry that it is," Shaw said, referencing a statement he gave the Times in 2019. Coverage of the lawsuit, he added, gave the case “undeserved credibility.”

###

In June 2019, former Scientologist Valerie Haney became the first of Kent’s clients to sue the church when she filed her lawsuit in Los Angeles alleging human trafficking, kidnapping, stalking and other claims.

Haney’s complaint, originally naming her as a Jane Doe but later amended, states that she joined the Sea Org at 15 and was forced to work as an indentured servant. After she left Scientology in 2017 and detailed her experience on the Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath series, Haney alleges she was followed by private investigators and that the church published “a hate website” falsely stating she was an alcoholic dismissed from the sect for promiscuity.

Scientology moved to compel her complaint into arbitration, noting the many contracts with the church she had signed over the years. Haney’s attorneys said those contracts should be void because she signed under coercion and distress and that “the strikingly broad scope” of the agreements makes then unenforceable.

When she began to “route out," Scientology’s process for members to exit after extensive interrogations, Haney said she was forced to make “false positive testimonials” about the church.

On Jan. 30, Judge Richard J. Burdge Jr. found Haney “failed to sufficiently demonstrate procedural unconscionability for purposes of invalidating any of the agreements she signed which compel her to arbitrate.”

Burdge set a post-arbitration hearing for 2021. Haney has asked the judge to reconsider.

Scientology has only ever held one other arbitration in its 67-year history. It took place in October 2017 after a federal judge in Tampa moved the fraud lawsuit brought by a California couple into arbitration. The couple, Luis and Rocio Garcia, is appealing what their attorney called “a sham” hearing.

During a hearing in the Garcia case in 2015, Scientology’s legal director, Allan Cartwright, told the court there had never been an arbitration conducted within the church to date.

In response to a question from the Times about Burdge’s decision in March, Scientology attorney Monique Yingling said “the court saw through that complaint and its sham allegations, and kicked the litigation out of court.”

###

Scientology has also moved to transfer into arbitration Kent’s other lawsuit, which was filed in August involving claims against actor and parishioner Danny Masterson.

After four women reported to Los Angeles Police they had been raped by Masterson, church officials began harassing them in line with policies “to destroy anyone whom they have deemed an enemy of Scientology,” according to the lawsuit filed by the four women and the husband of one. In a previous statement, Scientology attorney William Foreman called the claims “ludicrous and a sham.”

The lawsuit details that the women repeatedly found strangers around their homes, sometimes peering inside with flashlights at night. One woman’s dog mysteriously died and the autopsy showed trauma to its trachea, the lawsuit states. It says they were chased in cars and that all of them have have woken up to find their car doors and trunks open.

The judge has not ruled on Scientology’s request to move the claims by three of the women into arbitration. (The fourth was never a member of Scientology).

In asking the court to move Jane Doe’s case from Miami-Dade to Pinellas County, Scientology also moved to compel that case into arbitration. The judge’s May 15 order moving the case to Pinellas did not address arbitration.

In her lawsuit, Doe alleged she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a Clearwater Academy employee during her two kindergarten years. Doe reported this to adults at the school, but no action was taken to stop the abuse, according to the lawsuit.

At age 11, Doe said she was sent by Scientology to live in Caracas, Venezuela. The next year she was assaulted by the son of a high-ranking Scientologist at a church facility, according to the complaint.

It says Doe disclosed the assault to her auditor, a person who conducts spiritual counseling sessions. Instead of reporting the assault to law enforcement, the lawsuit alleges church officials “sentenced” Doe to three months of physical labor and issued her a “non-enturbulation" order, which warned she was at risk of losing standing in the church for “bringing in” the sexual assault.

The lawsuit states that in 2018, Scientology began attacks against Doe after she left the church, which included harassing phone calls, following her, vandalizing her property and cutting the brake lines to her car.