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Garcia v. Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

July 17, 2018

MARIA DEL ROCIO BURGOS GARCIA, and LUIS A. GARCIA SAZ, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY FLAG SERVICE ORGANIZATION, INC., CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY FLAG SHIP SERVICE ORGANIZATION, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER

          JAMES D. WHITTEMORE JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT are Plaintiffs' Amended Motion to Vacate Arbitration Awards (Dkt. 272) and Defendants' response (Dkt. 275). Upon consideration, Plaintiffs' Motion is DENIED.

         Ecclesiastical arbitration of the Garcias' claims for fraud, breach of contract, and violations of the Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act took place on October 23 and 24, 2017 before a panel of three Scientologists in good standing.[1] On the first day, the International Justice Chief ("IJC") provided the arbitrators with written instructions (Dkt. 275-3), Scientology policies on justice procedures, a copy of the Garcias' statement of claims and complaint (Dkt. 275-2), the letter from the Claims Verification Board ("CVB") denying the Garcias' claims for refunds of payments for services and a return of donations (Dkt. 275-2), and copies of the enrollment agreements signed by the Garcias. (Declaration of Mike Ellis, Dkt. 275-1 at ¶¶ 6-8). The instructions listed the Garcias' claims as follows:

         I. Returns of advance donations (repayment) for services and payments for accommodations, as follows:

A. $37, 413.56 from the Church of Scientology Flag Service Org (FSO) for services and religious retreat accommodations the Garcias did not avail themselves of.
B. $31, 445.45 from the Church of Scientology Flag Ship Service Org (FSSO) for services and religious retreat accommodations the Garcias did not avail themselves of.
C. $ 10, 000 from the Church of Scientology of Orange County (Orange County Org) for donations for services the Garcias did not avail themselves of.

         II. $40, 410 from the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) and U.S. IAS Members Trust (USIMT) for membership donations.

         III. $340, 000 from the Church of Scientology Religious Trust (CSRT) for donations to the Super Power project (Flag building).

         IV. $510, 000 from Orange County Org for donations to the Ideal Org fund.

         The arbitrators were instructed that the arbitration was "to be conducted in strict accordance with Scientology ethics and justice policies," and were provided the relevant policies. (Dkt. 275-4 at 1). They were instructed "to determine whether the Garcias followed the refund procedures required by policy," that the key policy was the "RELIGIOUS SERVICES ENROLLMENT APPLICATION AGREEMENT AND GENERAL RELEASE (the Enrollment Form)," and to determine whether the Garcias' requests for refunds were valid, and if so, in what amount. (Id.) The IJC was to operate as a terminal for Suppressive Persons, like the Garcias, and resolve any questions of relevance of information submitted to the arbitrators. (Id. at 2). The arbitrators were instructed to "conduct th[e] arbitration in a fair and neutral manner, notwithstanding the Garcias have been declared.") (Id.)

         The Garcias proffered a number of documents to the IJC as evidence in support of their claims for consideration by the arbitrators. Consistent with Church policy, the IJC resolved the relevance of Plaintiffs' documents, and disallowed or redacted several of those documents. (Dkt. 275-1 at ¶9; Affidavit of Luis Garcia, Dkt. 272-3 at 9-10). On the second day, the arbitrators met with the Garcias, questioned them, and permitted them to address the panel and present, if they wished. (Dkt. 275-1 at ¶ 12; Dkt. 272-3 at 11-16).

         The IJC provided the arbitrators with two forms to complete, a "Religious Arbitration Findings Form" on which to answer "yes" or "no" to specific questions about the Garcias' claims, and a "Religious Arbitration Decision Form" on which to answer "yes" or "no" to the questions of whether they were entitled to repayments and refunds of donations and advance payments, and if so, the amount. (Dkt. 275-1 at ¶ 14; Dkts. 275-6, 275-7).

         The arbitrators awarded the Garcias $18, 495.36 for repayments for accommodations at religious retreats they did not avail themselves of. (Dkt. 275-7 at 2). The IJC accepted the decision, which was ...


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