The process servers showed up to 10 Church of Scientology properties in Clearwater and California with legal documents in hand.
They tried 27 times over four months to serve Scientology leader David Miscavige with a federal trafficking lawsuit that names him as a defendant, according to records in the case.
Security guards, the court filings state, refused to accept documents from the process servers, declined to answer questions and said they did not know where Miscavige lived or worked despite him being the ecclesiastical leader of the organization.
The case revolves around allegations from three former Scientologists who say they were trafficked into the church as children and forced to work through adulthood for little or no pay. Valeska Paris and husband and wife Gawain and Laura Baxter, who filed the complaint in April, left the church’s military-style workforce called the Sea Org in 2009 and 2012, respectively.
Five church entities named as co-defendants already have been served and filed motions in July to push the lawsuit into internal arbitration, where it would go before a panel of loyal church members. A judge has not yet ruled on the church’s request to divert the case out of the U.S. court system. But as that decision is pending, attorneys for the three former church workers still have been unable to serve Scientology’s secretive and elusive leader.
A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 20 in Tampa federal court on the plaintiffs’ motion for a judge to declare Miscavige served and in default due to the “intentional concealment of his location and evasion of service.”
“Miscavige cannot be permitted to continue his gamesmanship,” Neil Glazer, an attorney for the plaintiffs, wrote in his Dec. 13 motion requesting the hearing.
The inability to serve Miscavige highlights the complex structure of the Scientology organization.
Like all members of the Sea Org, Miscavige, 62, has lived and worked exclusively in Scientology-owned buildings since he was 16, according to a declaration filed by Mike Rinder, a former church executive who reported to Miscavige until Rinder defected in 2007.
There is no trace of Miscavige’s personal residence in public records or proprietary databases, according to the plaintiffs’ legal team.
Even traffic tickets Miscavige received in Pinellas County in 1991 and 1995 list his address as the Church of Scientology International building in Los Angeles, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.
In a response filed Tuesday, attorneys for Miscavige alleged his inclusion as a defendant is improper “and part of a litigation strategy to target the leader of the religion for harassment.”
On Sept. 9, after months of failed attempts to serve Miscavige, U.S. Magistrate Judge Julie S. Sneed directed the clerk to issue a summons for him through the Florida Secretary of State, an alternate way to serve a defendant.
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Attorneys for Paris and the Baxters then sent notice of service by certified mail to 10 Scientology addresses in Clearwater and California, according to court records. The parcels were returned to sender with unsigned return receipts, refused at the location or lost in the mail, according to the plaintiffs’ Dec. 13 motion for a hearing on the matter.
The plaintiffs’ legal team also tried to contact Miscavige by hiring a private investigator, sending a direct message to Scientology’s Instagram page, combing public records and talking to former Sea Org members. They asked attorneys representing the Scientology entities named in the lawsuit to provide an address for Miscavige but were not successful, according to court records.
The attorneys for Miscavige argued in their response Tuesday that he should not be served with the lawsuit at all because the plaintiffs have not proven he is engaged in business in Florida or that their claims arise from his business in Florida, both legal requirements for service.
Miscavige’s attorneys filed declarations from Scientology representatives stating he is a resident of California, not Florida. They said he has not evaded service but was not present during any of the process servers’ attempts to deliver documents at various properties.
But when attorneys attempted to serve Miscavige in an unrelated lawsuit in Los Angeles in 2021, Miscavige then challenged their efforts because he “was thousands of miles away in Clearwater,” according to journalist Tony Ortega, who runs a blog critical of Scientology.
Court filings from the Tampa plaintiffs aimed to establish Miscavige’s presence in Clearwater. According to a 2022 Scientology postcard included in the filings, Miscavige has made “regular briefings” at Friday night graduations at the Flag building in downtown Clearwater.
Sarah Heller, Scientology’s legal director, stated in a declaration that videos of Miscavige were played at the Clearwater graduations referenced on the postcard and that he did not appear in person.
In declarations filed in the case, Rinder and former Sea Org member Aaron Smith-Levin stated Miscavige lives in a wing of Hacienda Gardens on North Saturn Avenue and Keene Road in Clearwater, a gated complex that houses Sea Org members.
Rinder said extensive methods are used “to shield Miscavige from liability or being served with summonses and subpoenas.” That includes training security guards to refuse legal service, he said.
Attorneys for Miscavige said the declarations were false and called Rinder and Smith-Levin avowed detractors of Scientology.
Miscavige’s attorneys also allege that two signatures of a Scientology representative on certified return receipts were forged. In a declaration, Sea Org member Joshua Adi said he was shown certified mail receipt cards stating he signed for packages from the plaintiffs’ attorneys on Sept. 19, but he never picked up those packages or signed the receipts.