Mar 16, 2015

Federal judge sides with Scientology on refund issue

Tampa Bay Times
Caitlin Johnston, Times Staff Writer
March 16, 2015

TAMPA — A federal judge has ruled in favor of the Church of Scientology, saying two former parishioners must go through the church's internal arbitration process to get a refund for more than $1.3 million they donated.

U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore issued a 21-page order Friday stating that plaintiffs Luis and Rocio Garcia are bound by contracts they signed during their 28 years with the church requiring them to use the arbitration process.

Because the order puts a stay on the federal court proceedings and requires the Garcias to go through the church process, the Garcias' closely watched lawsuit over the Church's fundraising tactics has come to a standstill.

Whittemore said the church's status as a religious organization means the First Amendment prohibits him from considering certain arguments that would require him to analyze and interpret Scientology doctrine.

The judge did side with the Garcias in acknowledging that the church "failed to provide any convincing evidence" that a church "Committee of Evidence" is the process in place to oversee arbitration, nor did it provide the rules and procedures for arbitration.

Furthermore, he wrote, "there has never been an arbitration in the church, further supporting plaintiff's arguments that no rules and procedures for conducting arbitration exist."

However, the judge said that the absence of particular rules do not make the arbitration clause in the contracts the Garcias signed unenforceable.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.