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Scientology’s Drug Rehab Fights Class-Action Lawsuit With Move to Federal Court

Narconon_GeorgiaIn June, Atlanta attorney Jeff Harris filed a class-action lawsuit against Scientology and its drug rehab network, Narconon, with seven named plaintiffs who are alleging fraud, deceptive practices, and negligence.

Harris had earlier handled a wrongful death lawsuit against Narconon Georgia following the 2008 overdose death of Patrick Desmond, a patient and employee of the Atlanta-area rehab center. The lawsuit was settled this past February, but documents that Harris obtained helped launch ongoing local and state investigations of credit card and insurance fraud, and resulted in a raid of the facility by law enforcement agents.

Now, Scientology is fighting back against the class-action lawsuit by having it removed to federal court and filing multiple motions to dismiss. We have the documents.

In the lawsuit, Harris named not only the local organization that runs the rehab center — Narconon Georgia — but also Narconon’s umbrella organization — Narconon International — and its parent group, which runs all of Scientology’s “social betterment” operations — the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE) — as well as the top entity that runs Scientology itself, the Religious Technology Center (RTC). The man who runs RTC, church leader David Miscavige, is said by numerous former high-level officials to wield tight control of all Scientology entities.

Harris is attempting to show that the Narconon model is a deceptive one that relies on the public’s ignorance about its connections to the Church of Scientology. As we have shown in numerous stories, based on documents produced in the Desmond lawsuit as well as first-hand accounts by former Narconon officials, the drug rehab network is used as a cash cow by the church, which puts heavy pressure on its executives to bring in more revenue. They accomplish that by operating hundreds of generic-sounding websites that pose as impartial referral services but are actually set up to convince callers to go to Narconon centers. Potential clients are told that Narconon centers offer individual drug counseling in a safe, secure environment staffed by medical personnel.

In reality, court documents show, instead of invidualized drug counseling, patients go through the same Scientology training that beginning church members do, the facilities are staffed not by medical personnel but by former addicts who are hired after they complete the program, and Narconon Georgia’s own documents, as well as lawsuits in other places, allege that the facilities are rife with drug use.

On July 2, the defendants had the class-action lawsuit removed to the U.S. District Court for the northern district of Georgia, Atlanta division, under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, a Bush-era law supported by tort-reform advocates that critics charged would make it harder to sue large corporations.

One of the requirements of removing a class-action lawsuit to federal court under CAFA is demonstrating that it would result in at least $5 million in damages. So the Scientology defendants found themselves having to total up their possible liability while asserting that the suit was groundless.

Based on what the plaintiffs are asking for, Narconon International calculated that it could potentially have to pay $72,300 per former patient, trebled to $216,900, with the likelihood of 100 or more plaintiffs — for a total of $21,690,000 plus punitive damages.

After removing the case to the federal court, on July 9 the defendants all filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit, but each on different principles.

Narconon Georgia, in its motion to dismiss, says that Harris’s complaint isn’t specific enough, and that it doesn’t include copies of actual contracts between the patients and the drug rehab facility. However, in a footnote, Narconon Georgia admits that it couldn’t find copies of contracts for three of the plaintiffs, which seems an embarrassing admission.

Even more embarrassing, however, is this argument by Narconon Georgia…

First, the contract plainly shows that NNGA did not promise a “drug-free environment;” rather, it imposed rules of conduct and discipline on its students that were intended to promote a drug-free environment. That the Student Rules of Conduct state, for example, “[n]on-prescribed drugs and alcohol are forbidden to be brought into the Narconon facility,” indicates that, while the NNGA aspired to be a “drug-free environment,” NNGA was not insuring a “drug-free environment.”

That may be something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of sending a loved one to a Narconon center.

Narconon International, in its motion to dismiss, criticizes the Harris complaint for accusing Narconon of hiding its connections to Scientology. The plaintiffs should be focused on the contracts the former patients signed, the defendant suggests, and those contracts were with the local Narconon, not Narconon International.

ABLE, in its motion to dismiss, also says it was not involved in the specific treatment given patients at Narconon Georgia. It merely licenses Narconon trademarks to Narconon International, who in turn licenses them to the local rehab centers. “Notably, there are no specific allegations of any actions taken by ABLE in the Complaint. ABLE is merely an add-on party to a complaint that focuses on the actions of other Defendants,” the memorandum supporting the motion says.

RTC, in its motion to dismiss, says what it always does, that it has nothing to do with anything: “Contrary to Plaintiffs’ allegations, RTC does not own or control any of the other Defendants in this case and does not own any of the intellectual property associated with the Narconon program.”

The Religious Technology Center was created in the early 1980s when Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard had gone into hiding to avoid being pulled into a federal prosecution of eleven top church officials, and to avoid being pulled into numerous lawsuits. To insulate himself, he asked for a major reorganization of Scientology, resulting in a byzantine, interlocking set of entities with murky relationships to each other. In 2002, former Scientology spokesman Robert Vaughn Young produced a lengthy affidavit asserting that the alphabet soup of entities is really a smokescreen, and that all that matters is David Miscavige’s position at the top of Scientology’s “Sea Organization,” which really runs things. This, Vaughn Young insisted, is how something like RTC could seem to have only a minor role — licensing L. Ron Hubbard’s copyrights and trademarks — and actually wield total control over everything done in the name of Scientology.

When it is hauled into court, however, Scientology’s strategy is always to insist that its entities have nothing to do with each other: Narconon is separate from Scientology, ABLE is a non-profit that operates on its own, RTC essentially does nothing.

It will be interesting to see how Harris and the plaintiffs counter this well-rehearsed legal strategy.

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on July 15, 2013 at 07:00

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