Wollersheim v. Church of Scientology (1989)
212 Cal.App.3d 872 , 260
[No. B023193. Court of Appeals of California,
Second Appellate District, Division Seven. July 18, 1989.]
LARRY WOLLERSHEIM, Plaintiff and
Respondent, v. CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY OF CALIFORNIA, Defendant and Appellant
(Opinion by Johnson, J., with Lillie, P.
J., and Woods (Fred), J., concurring.)
Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman, Eric M. Lieberman,
Terry Gross, Lenske, Lenske & Heller, Lawrence E. Heller and Michael
Lee Hertzberg for Defendant and Appellant.
Boothby, Ziprick & Yingst, William F. Ziprick, Lee Boothby and James
M. Parker as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.
Greene, O'Reilly, Broillet, Paul, Simon, McMillan, Wheeler & Rosenberg
and Charles B. O'Reilly for Plaintiff and Respondent.
This appeal arises after a jury awarded $30 million in compensatory and
punitive damages to a former member of the Church of Scientology of California
(the Church or Scientology). The complaint alleged [212 Cal.App.3d 878]
appellant intentionally and negligently inflicted severe emotional injury
on respondent through certain practices, including "auditing,"
"disconnect," and "fair game." Since the trial court
granted summary adjudication that Scientology is a religion and "auditing"
is a religious practice, the trial proceeded under the assumption it was.
We conclude there was substantial evidence to support a factual finding
the "auditing," as well as other practices in this case, were
conducted in a coercive environment. Thus, none of them qualified as "voluntary
religious practices" entitled to constitutional protection under the
First Amendment religious freedom guaranties. At the same time, we conclude
both the compensatory and punitive damages the jury awarded in this case
are excessive. Consequently, we modify the judgment to reduce both of these
Facts and Proceedings Below
Construing the facts most favorably to the judgment, as we must, respondent
Larry Wollersheim was an incipient manic-depressive for most of his life.
Appellant Scientology and its leaders were aware of Wollersheim's susceptibility
to this mental disorder: What appellant did to him during and after his
years in Scientology aggravated Wollersheim's mental condition, driving
him into deep depressive episodes and causing him severe mental anguish.
Furthermore, Scientology engaged in a practice of retribution and threatened
retribution -- often called "fair game" -- against members who
left or otherwise posed a threat to the organization. This practice coerced
Wollersheim into continued participation in the other practices of Scientology
which were harming him emotionally.
Wollersheim first became acquainted with Scientology in early 1969 when
he attended a lecture at the "Church of Scientology of San Francisco."
During the next few months he completed some basic courses at the San Francisco
institution. He then returned to his home state of Wisconsin and did not
resume his Scientology training for almost two years.
When Wollersheim did start again it was at the appellant, Church of Scientology
of California, headquartered in Los Angeles. From 1972 through 1979 Wollersheim
underwent "auditing" at both the basic and advanced levels. In
1973 he worked several months as a staff member at the Church of Scientology
Celebrity Center located in Los Angeles. In 1974, despite his repeated objections,
Wollersheim was persuaded to participate in auditing aboard a ship maintained
by Scientology. While on the ship, Wollersheim was forced to undergo a strenuous
regime which began around 6 a.m. and continued until 1 a.m. the next morning.
Further, Wollersheim and others were forced to sleep nine deep in the ship's
hold. During his six weeks under these conditions, Wollersheim lost fifteen
pounds. [212 Cal.App.3d 879]
Wollersheim attempted to escape from the ship because he felt he "was
dying and losing [his] mind." His escape was thwarted by Scientology
members who seized Wollersheim and held him captive until he agreed to remain
and continue with the auditing and other religious practices taking place
on the vessel. One of the psychiatric witnesses testified Wollersheim's
experience on the ship was one of five cataclysmic events underlying the
diagnosis of his mental illness and its cause.
At another stage Scientology auditors convinced him to "disconnect"
from his wife and his parents and other family members because they had
expressed concerns about Scientology and Wollersheim's continued membership.
"Disconnect" meant he was no longer to have any contact with his
There also was evidence of a practice called "freeloader debt."
"Freeloader debt" was accumulated when a staff member received
Church courses, training or auditing at a reduced rate. If the member later
chose to leave, he or she was presented with a bill for the difference between
the full price normally charged to the public and the price originally charged
to the member. Appellant maintained a "freeloader debt" account
During his years with Scientology Wollersheim also started and operated
several businesses. The most successful was the last, a service which took
and printed photographic portraits. Most of the employees and many of the
customers of this business were Scientologists.
By 1979, Wollersheim's mental condition worsened to the point he actively
contemplated suicide. Wollersheim began experiencing personality changes
and pain. When the Church learned of Wollersheim's condition, Wollersheim
was sent to the Flag Land Base for "repair."
During auditing at Flag Land Base, Wollersheim's mental state deteriorated
further. He fled the base and wandered the streets. A guardian later arranged
to meet Wollersheim. At that meeting, the guardian told Wollersheim he was
prohibited from ever speaking of his problems with a priest, a doctor or
Ultimately Wollersheim became so convinced auditing was causing him psychiatric
problems he was willing to risk becoming a target of "freeloader debt"
and "fair game." Evidence was introduced that, at least during
the time relevant to Wollersheim's case, "fair game" was a practice
of retribution Scientology threatened to inflict on "suppressives,"
which included people who left the organization or anyone who could pose
a threat to the [212 Cal.App.3d 880] organization. Once someone was identified
as a "suppressive," all Scientologists were authorized to do anything
to "neutralize" that individual -- economically, politically,
After Wollersheim left the organization Scientology leaders initiated
a "fair game" campaign which among other things was calculated
to destroy Wollersheim's photography enterprise. They instructed some Scientology
members to leave Wollersheim's employ, told others not to place any new
orders with him and to renege on bills they owed on previous purchases from
the business. This strategy shortly drove Wollersheim's photography business
into bankruptcy. His mental condition deteriorated further and he ended
up under psychiatric care.
Wollersheim thereafter filed this lawsuit alleging fraud, intentional
infliction of emotional injury, and negligent infliction of emotional injury.
At the law-and-motion stage, a trial court granted summary adjudication
on two vital questions. It ruled Scientology is a religion and "auditing"
is a religious practice of that religion.
During trial, Wollersheim's experts testified Scientology's "auditing"
and "disconnect" practices constituted "brain-washing"
and "thought reform" akin to what the Chinese and North Koreans
practiced on American prisoners of war. They also testified this "brain-washing"
aggravated Wollersheim's bipolar manic-depressive personality and caused
his mental illness. Other testimony established Scientology is a hierarchical
organization which exhibits near paranoid attitudes toward certain institutions
and individuals -- in particular, the government, mental health professions,
disaffected members and others who criticize the organization or its leadership.
Evidence also was introduced detailing Scientology's retribution policy,
sometimes called "fair game."
After the evidence was heard, the trial judge dismissed the fraud count
but allowed both the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional injury
counts to go to the jury. The jury, in turn, returned a general verdict
in favor of plaintiff on both counts. It awarded $5 million in compensatory
damages and $25 million in punitive damages. The motion for new trial was
denied and appellants filed a timely appeal.
Appellant raises a broad spectrum of issues all the way from a technical
statute of limitations defense to a fundamental constitutional challenge
to this entire species of claims against Scientology. If the narrower grounds
of appeal had merit and disposed of the case we could avoid confronting
the [212 Cal.App.3d 881] difficult constitutional questions. But since they
do not we must consider Scientology's religious freedom claims.
I. There Is Substantial Evidence to Support Wollersheim's Claim for Intentional
Infliction of Emotional Distress.
[1a] The cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional injury
formed the centerpiece of the case which went to the jury. This claim actually
cumulates four courses of conduct which together allegedly inflicted severe
emotional damage on the psychologically weak Wollersheim. These courses
of conduct are: (1) subjecting Wollersheim to forms of "auditing"
which aggravated his predisposition to bipolar mania-depression; (2) psychologically
coercing him to "disconnect" from his family; (3) "disclosing
personal information" Wollersheim revealed during auditing under a
mantle of confidentiality; and, (4) conducting a retributive campaign "fair
game" against Wollersheim and particularly against his business enterprise.
 The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress was created
to punish conduct "'exceeding all bounds usually tolerated by a decent
society, of a nature which is especially calculated to cause, and does cause,
mental distress.'" (Agarwal v. Johnson (1979) 25 Cal.3d 932, 946 [160
Cal.Rptr. 141, 603 P.2d 58].) A prima facie case requires: (1) outrageous
conduct by the defendant; (2) an intention by the defendant to cause, or
the reckless disregard of the probability of causing, emotional distress;
(3) severe emotional distress; and (4) an actual and proximate causation
of the emotional distress. (Nally v. Grace Community Church (1988) 47 Cal.3d
278, 300 [253 Cal.Rptr. 97, 763 P.2d 948].)
"Behavior may be considered outrageous if a defendant (1) abuses
a relation or position which gives him power to damage the plaintiff's interest;
(2) knows the plaintiff is susceptible to injuries through mental distress;
or (3) acts intentionally or unreasonably with the recognition that the
acts are likely to result in illness through mental distress." (Agarwal
v. Johnson, supra, 25 Cal.3d at p. 946.)
[1b] There is substantial evidence to support the jury's finding on this
theory. First, the Church's conduct was manifestly outrageous. Using its
position as his religious leader, the Church and its agents coerced Wollersheim
into continuing "auditing" although his sanity was repeatedly
threatened by this practice. (See pp. 892-894, post.) Wollersheim was compelled
to abandon his wife and his family through the policy of disconnect. When
his mental illness reached such a level he actively planned his suicide,
he was [212 Cal.App.3d 882] forbidden to seek professional help. Finally,
when Wollersheim was able to leave the Church, it subjected him to financial
ruin through its policy of "fair game."
Any one of these acts exceeds the "bounds usually tolerated by a
decent society," so as to constitute outrageous conduct. In aggregate,
there can be no question this conduct warrants liability unless it is privileged
as constitutionally protected religious activity. (See pp. 883-886, post.)
Second, the Church's actions, if not wholly calculated to cause emotional
distress, unquestionably constituted reckless disregard for the likelihood
of causing emotional distress. The policy of fair game, by its nature, was
intended to punish the person who dared to leave the Church. Here, the Church
actively encouraged its members to destroy Wollersheim's business.
Further, by physically restraining Wollersheim from leaving the Church's
ship, and subjecting him to further auditing despite his protests, the Church
ignored Wollersheim's emotional state and callously compelled him to continue
in a practice known to cause him emotional distress.
Third, Wollersheim suffered severe emotional distress. Indeed, his distress
was such that he actively considered suicide and suffered such psychiatric
injury as to require prolonged professional therapy. (See Fletcher v. Western
National Life Ins. Co. (1970) 10 Cal.App.3d 376, 397 [89 Cal.Rptr. 78, 47
A.L.R.3d 286] [severe emotional distress "may consist of any highly
unpleasant mental reaction such as fright, grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment,
anger, chagrin, disappointment or worry"].)
Finally, there is substantial evidence the Church's conduct proximately
caused the severe emotional distress. Wollersheim's bankruptcy and resulting
mental distress was the direct result of the Church's declaration that he
was fair game. Additionally, according to the psychiatric testimony auditing
and disconnect substantially aggravated his mental illness and triggered
several severe depressive episodes.
In sum, there is ample evidence to support the jury's verdict on Wollersheim's
claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. This, however, does
not conclude our inquiry. As we discuss below, Wollersheim's action may
nonetheless be barred if we conclude the Church's conduct was protected
under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. [212 Cal.App.3d 883]
II. Constitutional Religious Freedom Guaranties Do Not Immunize Scientology
From Liability for Any of the Actions on Which Wollersheim's Intentional
Infliction of Emotional Injury Cause of Action Is Based
Scientology asserts all four courses of conduct comprising the intentional
infliction claim are forms of religious expression protected by the freedom
of religion clauses of the United States and California Constitutions. We
conclude some would not be protected religious activity even if Wollersheim
freely participated. We further conclude none of these courses of conduct
qualified as protected religious activity in Wollersheim's case. Here they
occurred in a coercive atmosphere appellant created through threats of retribution
against those who would leave the organization. To explain our conclusions
it is necessary to examine the parameters and rationale of the religious
freedom provisions in some depth.
A. The Basic Principles of the "Free Exercise" Clause
Religious freedom is guaranteed American citizens in just 16 words in
the First Amendment. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ... "(U.S. Const.,
Amend. I, italics added.) fn. 1
When it was adopted, the First Amendment only applied to the federal
government, not the states. (U.S. Const., 1st Amend. ["Congress shall
make no law ..."], italics added; see Permoli v. First Municipality
(1845) 44 U.S. 589, 609 [11 L.Ed. 739, 748].) However, following ratification
of the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment protections became enforceable
against the states via the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause. (California
v. Grace Brethren Church (1982) 457 U.S. 393, 396, fn. 1 [73 L.Ed.2d 93,
99, 102 S.Ct. 2498]; Everson v. Board of Education (1947) 330 U.S. 1, 8
[91 L.Ed. 711, 719, 67 S.Ct. 504, 168 A.L.R. 1392].)
 "[T]he application of tort law to activities of a church or
its adherents in their furtherance of their religious belief is an exercise
of state power. When the imposition of liability would result in the abridgement
of the right to free exercise of religious beliefs, recovery in tort is
barred." (Paul v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc. of New York (9th
Cir. 1987) 819 F.2d 875, 880; accord Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn. (1988) 46
Cal.3d 1092, 1114 [252 Cal.Rptr. 122, 762 P.2d 46] ["judicial sanctioning
of tort recovery constitutes [212 Cal.App.3d 884] state action sufficient
to invoke the same constitutional protections applicable to statutes and
other legislative actions"]; see New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964)
376 U.S. 254, 277 [11 L.Ed.2d 686, 705-705, 84 S.Ct. 710, 95 A.L.R.2d 1412].)
As can be seen, the First Amendment creates two very different protections.
The "establishment clause" -- actually an "anti-establishment
clause" -- guarantees us the government will not use its resources
to impose religion on us. The "free exercise clause," on the other
hand, guarantees us government will not prevent its citizens from pursuing
any religion we choose.
The "establishment clause" comes into play when a government
policy has the effect of promoting religion -- as by financing religious
schools or requiring religious prayers in public schools, and the like.
These policies violate the establishment clause unless they survive a three-part
test. They must have a secular purpose. Their primary effects must be ones
which neither advance nor inhibit religion. And they must avoid any excessive
entanglements with religion. (Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) 403 U.S. 602, 612-613
[29 L.Ed.2d 745, 755-756, 91 S.Ct. 2105]; see also Committee for Public
Education v. Nyquist (1973) 413 U.S. 756, 773 [37 L.Ed.2d 948, 963, 93 S.Ct.
2955]; Abington School Dist. v. Schempp (1963) 374 U.S. 203, 222 [10 L.Ed.2d
844, 858, 83 S.Ct. 1560].) The "free exercise clause," in contrast
to the "establishment clause," was adopted without debate or comment
when the First Congress deliberated the Bill of Rights. (Malbin, Religion
and Politics: The Intentions of the Authors of the First Amendment (1976).)
Thus the courts have turned to other writings by those responsible for the
Bill of Rights, especially James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, to divine
the meaning of "free exercise of religion."
 The subsequent cases interpreting these four words make it clear
that while the free exercise clause provides absolute protection for a person's
religious beliefs, it provides only limited protection for the expression
of those beliefs and especially actions based on those beliefs. (Cantwell
v. Connecticut (1940) 310 U.S. 296, 303-304 [84 L.Ed. 1213, 1217-1218, 60
S.Ct. 900, 128 A.L.R. 1352].) Freedom of belief is absolutely guaranteed;
freedom of action is not. Thus government cannot constitutionally burden
any belief no matter how outlandish or dangerous. But in certain circumstances
it can burden an expression of belief which adversely affects significant
societal interests. To do so, the burden on belief must satisfy a four-part
test. First, the government must be seeking to further an important -- and
some opinions suggest a compelling -- state interest. Second, the burden
on expression must be essential to further this state interest. Third, the
type and level of burden imposed must be the minimum required to achieve
the [212 Cal.App.3d 885] state interest. Finally, the measure imposing the
burden must apply to everyone, not merely to those who have a religious
belief; that is, it may not discriminate against religion.
A straightforward exposition of three prongs of this test is found in
United States v. Lee (1982) 455 U.S. 252, 257-258 [71 L.Ed.2d 127, 132,
102 S.Ct. 1051] where the Supreme Court held: "The state may justify
a limitation on religious liberty by showing that it is essential to accomplish
an overriding governmental interest. (Citations omitted.)" All four
are mentioned in Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) 366 U.S. 599, 607 [6 L.Ed.2d
563, 568-569, 81 S.Ct. 1144]: "If the purpose or effect of a law is
to impede the observance of one or all religions or is to discriminate invidiously
between religions, that law is constitutionally invalid .... But if the
State regulates conduct by enacting a general law within its power, the
purpose and effect of which is to advance the State's secular goals, the
statute is valid despite its indirect burden on religious observance unless
the State may accomplish its purpose by means which do not impose such a
burden." (See also Thomas v. Review Bd., Ind. Empl. Sec. Div. (1981)
450 U.S. 707, 717-718 [67 L.Ed.2d 624, 633-634, 101 S.Ct. 1425]; Wisconsin
v. Yoder (1972) 406 U.S. 205, 220 [32 L.Ed.2d 15, 28, 92 S.Ct. 1526]; Gillette
v. United States (1971) 401 U.S. 437, 462 [28 L.Ed.2d 168, 187-188, 91 S.Ct.
828]; Sherbert v. Verner (1963) 374 U.S. 398, 402-403 [10 L.Ed.2d 965, 969-970,
83 S.Ct. 1790]; Cantwell v. Connecticut, supra, 310 U.S. at pp. 304-305
[84 L.Ed.2d at pp. 1218-1219].)
A review of the Supreme Court's "free exercise" rulings also
makes it apparent the four critical factors are interrelated. Roughly speaking,
the heavier the burden the government imposes on the expression of belief
and the more significant the particular form of expression which is burdened,
the more important the state interest must be. Or to put it the other way
around, the more important the interest the state seeks to further, the
heavier the burden it can constitutionally impose on the more important
forms of expressing religious belief. Thus, only the most compelling of
state interests -- such as the preservation of life or of the state itself
-- will justify an outright ban on an important method of expressing a religious
belief. (See, e.g., Reynolds v. United States (1878) 98 U.S. 145, 164 [25
L.Ed. 244, 249] [polygamy can be outlawed even though a central religious
tenet of the Mormon religion because it "has always been odious among
the northern and western nations of Europe, ... and from the earliest history
of England has been treated as an offence against society." (Italics
added.)]; Prince v. Massachusetts (1944) 321 U.S. 158, 170 [88 L.Ed. 645,
654-655, 64 S.Ct. 438] [parents can be prohibited from allowing their children
to distribute religious literature even though this is a religious duty
required in order to avoid "everlasting destruction at Armageddon"
where necessary to protect [212 Cal.App.3d 886] the health and safety of
youth]; Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905) 197 U.S. 11, 26 [49 L.Ed. 643,
649-650, 25 S.Ct. 358] [adults and children can be compelled to be vaccinated
for communicable diseases even though their religious beliefs oppose vaccination
because as was observed in Prince v. Massachusetts, supra, 321 U.S. at pp.
166-167 (88 L.Ed. at p. 653), "[T]he right to practice religion freely
does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable
disease or the latter to ill health or death"].)
But a less significant state interest may be enough where the burden
is less direct or the form of expression less central to the exercise of
the particular religion. (See, e.g., Goldman v. Weinberger (1986) 475 U.S.
503, 509-510 [89 L.Ed.2d 478, 485-486, 106 S.Ct. 1310] where the military's
apparently rather marginal interest in absolutely uniform attire was enough
to justify an outright ban against a Jewish officer's apparently rather
marginal form of religious expression in wearing a yarmulke [a religious
cap] indoors.) In Bowen v. Roy (1986) 476 U.S. 693 [90 L.Ed.2d 735, 106
S.Ct. 2147], disapproved on other grounds in Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals
Commission (1987) 480 U.S. 136, 141 [94 L.Ed.2d 190, 197-198, 107 S.Ct.
1046], the U.S. Supreme Court found the federal government's interest in
administrative convenience in preventing fraud in a benefit program was
enough to justify the minimal burden of denying benefits to those who because
of religious beliefs refuse to obtain and reveal social security numbers.
(Braunfeld v. Brown, supra, 366 U.S. 599, 605 [6 L.Ed.2d 563, 567] [governmental
interest in prohibiting economic activity on Sundays is enough to justify
imposing the burden of an economic loss on those orthodox Jews who choose
to exercise their religious belief that they not work on Saturdays and thus
lose two rather than only one day's opportunity to earn money. "[T]he
case before us ... does not make unlawful any religious practices of appellants;
the Sunday law simply regulates a secular activity and, as applied to appellants,
operates so as to make the practice of their religious beliefs more expensive"],
We now apply the above principles to the four courses of conduct alleged
in Wollersheim's intentional infliction of emotional injury cause of action.
 To be entitled to constitutional protection under the freedom of religion
clauses any course of conduct must satisfy three requirements. First, the
system of thought to which the course of conduct relates must qualify as
a "religion," not a philosophy or science or personal preference.
Thus, it is unlikely a psychiatrist could successfully shield himself from
malpractice by asserting he was merely practicing the "religion"
of psychotherapy and following the "religious" teachings of Freud
and Jung. Second, the course of conduct must qualify as an expression of
that religion and not just an activity that religious people happen to be
doing. Thus, driving a [212 Cal.App.3d 887] Sunday-school bus does not constitute
a religious practice merely because the bus is owned by a religion, the
driver is an ordained minister of the religion, and the bus is taking church
members to a religious ceremony. (See Malloy v. Fong (1951) 37 Cal.2d 356,
373 [232 P.2d 241] [religious organization held liable for employee's negligent
driving]; Meyers v. S.W. Reg. Con. Ass'n. of Seventh Day Adv. (1956) 230
La. 310 [88 so.2d 381, 386] [First Amendment does not bar minister's workers'
compensation action against church for injuries arising from auto accident
which occurred when minister was traveling to church conference].) And,
third, the religious expression must not inflict so much harm that there
is a compelling state interest in discouraging the practice which outweighs
the values served by freedom of religion. Thus, the fact polygamy was a
central practice of the Mormon religion was not enough to qualify it for
constitutional protection from state governments which desired to ban this
This means we must first ask three questions as to each of the four courses
of conduct Wollersheim alleged against Scientology. (1) Does Scientology
qualify as a religion? (2) If so, is the course of conduct at issue an expression
of the religion of Scientology? (3) If it is, does the public nevertheless
have a compelling secular interest in discouraging this course of conduct
even though it qualifies as a religious expression of the Scientology religion?
After answering these three questions, however, the special circumstances
of this case require us to ask a fourth. Did Wollersheim participate in
this course of conduct voluntarily or did Scientology coerce his continued
participation through the threat of serious sanctions if he left the religion?
The threshold question for all four courses of conduct is whether Scientology
qualifies as a religion. As will be recalled, at the law-and-motion stage,
a judge granted summary adjudication on this issue. That court ruled Scientology
indeed was a religion. And at the trial stage, another judge reinforced
this ruling by submitting the case to the jury with an instruction that
Scientology is a religion.
As a result of the law-and-motion judge's decision on this question,
evidence was not introduced at trial on the specific issue of whether Scientology
is a religion. Given that vacuum of information, it would be presumptuous
of this court to attempt a definitive decision on this vital question. We
note other appellate courts have observed this remains a very live and interesting
question. (See Founding Church of Scientology v. United States (D.C. Cir.
1969) 409 F.2d 1146, 1160-1161 [133 App.D.C. 229, 13 A.L.R.Fed. 721]; Founding
Church of Scientology v. Webster (D.C. Cir. 1986) 802 F.2d 1448, 1451 [256
App.D.C. 54] ["whether Scientology is a religious organization, a for-profit
private enterprise, or something far more [212 Cal.App.3d 888] extraordinary
[is] an intriguing question that this suit does not call upon us to examine
..."].) However, we have no occasion to go beyond a review of the summary
adjudication decision the trial court reached at the law-and-motion stage.
In reviewing this decision, we find that on the evidence before the court
the judge properly ruled Scientology qualifies as a religion within the
meaning of the freedom of religion clauses of the United States and California
This brings us to the remaining three questions as to each of the four
courses of conduct: Is the conduct a "religious practice"? If
so, is there a compelling secular interest in requiring compensation for
the injuries attributable to that practice? If the constitutional immunity
is not overridden by a compelling state interest in the ordinary situation,
is it nevertheless stripped away here because the religion coerced the injured
member into continuing his participation in the practice?
 B. Even Assuming the Retributive Conduct Sometimes Called "Fair
Game" Is a Core Practice of Scientology It Does Not Qualify for Constitutional
As we have seen, not every religious expression is worthy of constitutional
protection. To illustrate, centuries ago the inquisition was one of the
core religious practices of the Christian religion in Europe. This religious
practice involved torture and execution of heretics and miscreants. (See
generally Peters, Inquisition (1988); Lea, The Inquisition of the Middle
Ages (1961).) Yet should any church seek to resurrect the inquisition in
this country under a claim of free religious expression, can anyone doubt
the constitutional authority of an American government to halt the torture
and executions? And can anyone seriously question the right of the victims
of our hypothetical modern day inquisition to sue their tormentors for any
injuries -- physical or psychological -- they sustained?
We do not mean to suggest Scientology's retributive program as described
in the evidence of this case represented a full-scale modern day "inquisition."
Nevertheless, there are some parallels in purpose and effect. "Fair
game" like the "inquisition" targeted "heretics"
who threatened the dogma and institutional integrity of the mother church.
Once "proven" to be a "heretic," an individual was to
be neutralized. In medieval times neutralization often meant incarceration,
torture, and death. (Peters, Inquisition, supra, pp. 57, 65-67, 87, 92-94,
98, 117-118, 133-134; Lea, The Inquisition of the Middle Ages, supra, pp.
181, 193-202, 232-236, 250-264, 828-829.) As described in the evidence at
this trial the "fair game" policy neutralized the "heretic"
by stripping this person of his or her economic, political and psychological
power. (See, e.g., Allard v. Church of Scientology [212 Cal.App.3d 889]
(1976) 58 Cal.App.3d 439, 444 [129 Cal.Rptr. 797] [former church member
falsely accused by Church of grand theft as part of "fair game"
policy, subjecting member to arrest and imprisonment].)
In the instant case, at least, the prime focus of the "fair game"
campaign was against the "heretic" Wollersheim's economic interests.
Substantial evidence supports the inference Scientology set out to ruin
Wollersheim's photography enterprise. Scientologists who worked in the business
were instructed to resign immediately. Scientologists who were customers
were told to stop placing orders with the business. Most significantly,
those who owed money for previous orders were instructed to renege on their
payments. Although these payments actually were going to a factor not Wollersheim,
the effect was to deprive Wollersheim of the line of credit he needed to
continue in business.
Appellant argues these "fair game" practices are protected
religious expression. They cite to a recent Ninth Circuit case upholding
the constitutional right of the Jehovah's Witness Church and its members
to "shun" heretics from that religion even though the heretics
suffer emotional injury as a result. (Paul v. Watchtower Bible & Tract
Soc. of New York, supra, 819 F.2d 875.) In this case a former Jehovah's
Witness sued the church and certain church leaders for injuries she claimed
to have suffered when the church ordered all other church members to "shun"
her. In the Jehovah Witness religion, "shunning" means church
members are prohibited from having any contact whatsoever with the former
member. They are not to greet them or conduct any business with them or
socialize with them in any manner. Thus, there was a clear connection between
the religious practice of "shunning" and Ms. Paul's emotional
injuries. Nonetheless, the trial court dismissed her case. The Ninth Circuit
affirmed in an opinion which expressly held "shunning" is a constitutionally
protected religious practice. "[T]he defendants, ... possess an affirmative
defense of privilege -- a defense that permits them to engage in the practice
of shunning pursuant to their religious beliefs without incurring tort liability."
(Id. at p. 879.)
We first note another appellate court has taken the opposite view on
the constitutionality of "shunning." (Bear v. Reformed Mennonite
Church (1975) 462 Pa. 330 [341 A.2d 105].) In this case the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court confronted a situation similar to Paul v. Watchtower Bible
& Tract Soc. of New York. The plaintiff was a former member of the Mennonite
Church. He was excommunicated for criticizing the church. Church leaders
ordered that all members must "shun" the plaintiff. As a result,
both his business and family collapsed. The appellate court reversed the
trial court's dismissal of the action, holding: "In our opinion, the
complaint, ... raises issues that the 'shunning' practice of appellee church
and the conduct of the [212 Cal.App.3d 890] individuals may be an excessive
interference within areas of 'paramount state concern,' i.e., the maintenance
of marriage and family relationship, alienation of affection, and the tortious
interference with a business relationship, which the courts of this Commonwealth
may have authority to regulate, even in light of the 'Establishment' and
'Free Exercise' clauses of the First Amendment." (Bear v. Reformed
Mennonite Church, supra, 341 A.2d at p. 107, italics in original.)
We observe the California Supreme Court has cited with apparent approval
the viewpoint on "shunning" expressed in Bear v. Mennonite Church,
supra, rather than the one adopted in Paul v. Watchtower Bible & Tract
Soc. of New York, supra. (See Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn., supra, 46 Cal.3d
1092, 1114.) But even were Paul v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc. of
New York the law of this jurisdiction it would not support a constitutional
shield for Scientology's retribution program. In the instant case Scientology
went far beyond the social "shunning" of its heretic, Wollersheim.
Substantial evidence supports the conclusion Scientology leaders made the
deliberate decision to ruin Wollersheim economically and possibly psychologically.
Unlike the plaintiff in Paul v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc. of New
York, Wollersheim did not suffer his economic harm as an unintended byproduct
of his former religionists' practice of refusing to socialize with him any
more. Instead he was bankrupted by a campaign his former religionists carefully
designed with the specific intent it bankrupt him. Nor was this campaign
limited to means which are arguably legal such as refusing to continue working
at Wollersheim's business or to purchase his services or products. Instead
the campaign featured a concerted practice of refusing to honor legal obligations
Scientologists owed Wollersheim for services and products they already had
If the Biblical commandment to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and
to render unto God what is God's has any meaning in the modern day it is
here. Nothing in Paul v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc. of New York or
any other case we have been able to locate even implies a religion is entitled
to constitutional protection for a campaign deliberately designed to financially
ruin anyone -- whether a member or nonmember of that religion. Nor have
we found any cases suggesting the free exercise clause can justify a refusal
to honor financial obligations the state considers binding and legally enforceable.
One can only imagine the utter chaos that could overtake our economy if
people who owed money to others were entitled to assert a freedom of religion
defense to repayment of those debts. It is not unlikely the courts would
soon be flooded with debtors who claimed their religion prohibited them
from paying money they owed to others.
We are not certain a delibgrate campaign to financially ruin a former
member or the dishonoring of debts owed that member qualify as "religious
[212 Cal.App.3d 891] practices" of Scientology. But if they do, we
have no problem concluding the state has a compelling secular interest in
discouraging these practices. (See pp. 884-886, supra.) Accordingly, we
hold the freedom of religion guaranties of the United States and California
Constitutions do not immunize these practices from civil liability for any
injuries they cause to "targets" such as Wollersheim.
C. "Auditing" Is a Constitutionally Protected Religious Practice
Where It Is Conducted in a Noncoercive Environment But Is Not Protected
Where Conducted Under a Threat of Economic, Psychological and Political
Retribution as It Was Here
Auditing is a process of one-on-one dialogue between a Scientology "auditor"
and a Scientology student. The student ordinarily is connected to a crude
lie detector, a so-called "E-Meter." The auditor asks probing
questions and notes the student's reactions as registered on the E-Meter.
Through the questions, answers, and E-meter readings, the auditor seeks
to identify the student's "n-grams" or "engrams." These
"engrams" are negative feelings, attitudes, or incidents that
act as blockages preventing people from realizing their full potential and
living life to the fullest. Since Scientology holds the view people actually
have lived many past lives over millions of years they carry "engrams"
accumulated during those past lives as well as some from their present ones.
Once the auditor identifies an "engram" the auditor and the student
work to surface and eliminate it. The goal is to identify and eliminate
all the student's engrams so he or she can achieve the state of "clear."
Students can pass through several levels of "auditing" en route
to ever higher states of "clear."
Auditing performs a similar function for Scientology as sermons and other
forms of mass persuasion do for many religions. In those religions, ministers,
priests or other clergy preach to the multitude in order to bring their
adherents into line with the religion's principles. Scientology instead
emphasizes a one-on-one approach -- the "auditing" process --
to accomplish the same purpose.
At the law-and-motion stage, the trial court granted summary adjudication
that "auditing" is a "religious practice" of Scientology.
Once again, our review of the trial court decision reveals that on the basis
of the evidence before the court on that occasion, the ruling is correct.
thus for purposes of this appeal we find "auditing" qualifies
as a "religious practice" just as Scientology qualifies as a "religion."
 Having found for purposes of this appeal that Scientology is a religion
and auditing is a religious practice, we must next ask whether the state
[212 Cal.App.3d 892] has a "compelling interest" in awarding compensation
for any harm auditing may cause which outweighs the values served by the
religious expression guaranties of the Constitution.
We first note we have already held there was substantial evidence to
support a jury finding that what happened during the "auditing"
process, along with Scientology's other conduct toward Wollersheim, caused
this particular adherent serious emotional injury. We further found substantial
evidence Scientology leaders were aware of Wollersheim's psychological weakness
and yet continued practices during auditing sessions which caused the kinds
of psychological stress that led to his mental breakdown. Thus, there is
adequate proof the religious practice of auditing caused real harm in this
instance to this individual and that appellant's outrageous conduct caused
that harm. Furthermore, there is sufficient evidence to support a conclusion
that despite its knowledge auditing was aggravating Wollersheim's serious
psychological problems appellants deliberately insisted he not seek help
from professional psychotherapists. None of this, however, means auditing
represents such a threat of harm to society that the state has a compelling
interest in awarding compensation which overcomes the values served by the
religious expression guaranties of the Constitution.
To better understand why we conclude voluntary auditing may be entitled
to immunity from liability for the emotional injuries it causes, consider
some analogies. Assume Wollersheim were not a former Scientologist, but
a former follower of one of the scores of Christian denominations. Further
assume he sued on grounds a preacher's sermons filled him with such feelings
of inferiority and guilt his manic-depressive condition was aggravated to
the same degree Wollersheim contends auditing aggravated his mental illness
in this case. Or assume another Wollersheim sued another church for a similar
emotional injury on grounds his mental illness had been triggered by what
a cleric told him about his sins during a confession -- or series of confessions.
It is one of the functions of many religions to "afflict the comfortable"
-- to deliberately generate deep psychological discomfort as a means of
motivating "sinners" to stop "sinning." Whether by "hell
fire and damnation" preaching, "speaking in tongues," private
chastising, or a host of subtle and not so subtle techniques religion seeks
to make us better people.
Many of these techniques are capable of inflicting emotional distress
severe enough that it is foreseeable some with psychiatric problems will
"crack" or be driven into a deep depression. But the Constitution
values the good religion does for the many more than the psychological injury
it may inflict on the few. Thus, it cannot tolerate lawsuits which might
chill religious practices -- such as auditing, "hell fire and damnation"
preaching, [212 Cal.App.3d 893] confessions, and the like -- where the only
harm which occurs is emotional injury to the psychologically weak.
There is an element present in the instant case, however, that reduces
the religious value of the "auditing" practiced on Wollersheim
and increases its harm to the community. This is the element of coercion.
Scientology, unlike most other religions or organizations claiming a religious
purpose, uses various sanctions and the threat of sanctions to induce continued
membership in the Church and observance of its practices. These sanctions
include "fair game," "freeloader debt" and even physical
restraint. There was nothing in the evidence presented at this trial suggesting
new recruits and members undergoing lower-level "auditing" were
subject to sanctions if they decided to leave. Nor was there evidence these
recruits or "lower level" auditors would be aware any program
of sanctions even existed and thus might be intimidated by it. But there
was evidence others, like Wollersheim, who rose to higher levels of auditing
and especially those, like Wollersheim, who became staff members -- the
rough equivalent of becoming a neophyte priest or minister -- were aware
of these sanctions and what awaited them if they chose to "defect."
Thus, their continued participation in "auditing" and the other
practices of Scientology was not necessarily voluntary.
Wollersheim was familiar with the whole spectrum of sanctions and indeed
was the target of some during and after his affiliation with Scientology.
He first learned of one of these forms of retribution, "fair game,"
in 1970. He also knew that, despite the Church's public rejection of the
fair game practice, it continued to use fair game against targeted ex-Scientologists
throughout the 1970's. Under Scientology's "fair
game" policy, someone who threatened Scientology by leaving the church
"may be deprived of property or injured by any means by a Scientologist
.... [The targeted defector] may be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed."
Wollersheim feared "fair game" would be practiced against him
if he refused further auditing and left the Church of Scientology. As described
in the previous section, those fears proved to be accurate. Scientology
leaders indeed became very upset by his defection and retaliated against
But "fair game" was not the only sanction which Scientology
held over Wollersheim's head during his years as an "upper level"
auditor and occasional staff member. Scientology also used a tactic called
"freeloader debt" as a means of coercing Wollersheim's continued
participation in the church and obedience to its practices. "Freeloader
debt" was devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard as a means
of punishing members who, inter [212 Cal.App.3d 894] alia, chose to leave
the Church or refused to disconnect from a suppressive person.
"Freeloader debt" was accumulated when a staff member received
Church courses, training or auditing at a reduced rate. The Church maintained
separate records which listed the discounts allowed. If the member later
chose to leave, he or she was presented with a bill for the difference between
the full price normally charged to the public and the price originally charged
to the member. fn. 2 A person who stayed in the Church for five years could
easily accumulate a "freeloader debt" of between $10,000 and $50,000.
Wollersheim was familiar with the "freeloader debt" policy as
well as the "fair game" policy. He also knew the Church was recording
the courses and auditing sessions he was receiving at the discounted rate.
The threat of facing that amount of debt represented a powerful economic
sanction acting to coerce continued participation in auditing as the core
religious practice of the Church of Scientology.
There also was evidence Wollersheim accepted some of his auditing under
threat of physical coercion. In 1974, despite his repeated objections, Wollersheim
was induced to participate in auditing aboard a ship Scientology maintained
as part of its Rehabilitation Project Force. The Church obtained Wollersheim's
attendance by using a technique dubbed "bait and badger." As the
name suggests, this tactic deployed any number of Church members against
a recalcitrant member who was resisting a Church order. They would alternately
promise the "bait" of some reward and "badger" him with
verbal scare tactics. In the instant case, five Scientologists "baited
and badgered" Wollersheim continuously for three weeks before he finally
gave in and agreed to attend the Rehabilitation Project Force.
But these verbal threats and psychological pressure tactics were only
the beginning of Wollersheim's ordeal. While on the ship, Wollersheim was
forced to undergo a strenuous regime which began around 6 a.m. and continued
until 1 a.m. the next morning. The regime included mornings of menial and
repetitive cleaning of the ship followed by an afternoon of study or coauditing.
The evenings were spent working and attending meetings or conferences. Wollersheim
and others were forced to sleep in the ship's hole. A total of 30 people
were stacked 9 high in this hole without proper ventilation. During his
six weeks under these conditions, Wollersheim lost fifteen pounds. [212
Ultimately, Wollersheim felt he could bear the regime no longer. He attempted
to escape from the ship because as he testified later: "I was dying
and losing my mind." But his escape effort was discovered. Several
Scientology members seized Wollersheim and held him captive. They released
him only when he agreed to remain and continue with the auditing and other
"religious practices" taking place on the vessel.
One of the psychiatric witnesses testified that in her opinion Wollersheim's
experience on the ship was one of five cataclysmic events underlying her
diagnosis of his mental illness and its cause. As the psychiatrist reported,
following this incident, Wollersheim felt the Church "broke him."
In any event, this episode demonstrated the Church was willing to physically
coerce Wollersheim into continuing with his auditing. Moreover they were
willing to do so even when it was apparent this practice was causing him
serious mental distress and he preferred to cease or at least suspend this
particular religious practice. Not only was the particular series of auditing
sessions on the ship conducted under threat of physical compulsion, but
the demonstrated willingness to use physical coercion infected later auditing
sessions. The fact the Church was willing to use physical coercion on this
occasion to compel Wollersheim's continued participation in auditing added
yet another element to the coercive environment under which he took part
in the auditing process.
There was substantial evidence here from which the jury could have concluded
Wollersheim was subjecting himself to auditing because of the coercive environment
with which Scientology had surrounded him. To leave the Church or to cease
auditing he had to run the risk he would become a target of "fair game,"
face an enormous burden of "freeloader debt," and even confront
physical restraint. A religious practice which takes place in the context
of this level of coercion has less religious value than one the recipient
engages in voluntarily. Even more significantly, it poses a greater threat
to society to have coerced religious practices inflicted on its citizens.
There are important analogies to Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn., supra, 46
Cal.3d 1092. In Molko the California Supreme Court held a religious organization
could be held civilly liable for using deception and fraud to seduce new
recruits into the church. fn. 3 In that case the church concealed from new
[212 Cal.App.3d 896] recruits the fact they were enlisting in the Unification
Church. The plaintiffs argued the Unification Church psychologically and
physically coerced them into accepting the Church and, therefore, they were
unable to refuse formally joining once the Church's true identity was revealed.
(Id. at pp. 1108-1109.) The Supreme Court agreed and further concluded there
was no constitutional infirmity to bar the action.
"We conclude ... that although liability for deceptive recruitment
practices imposes a marginal burden on the Church's free exercise of religion,
the burden is justified by the compelling state interest in protecting individuals
and families from the substantial threat to public safety, peace and order
posed by the fraudulent induction of unconsenting individuals into an atmosphere
of coercive persuasion." (46 Cal.3d at p. 1118.)
Here Scientology used coercion -- "fair game," "freeloader
debt," and in this instance, at least, physical restraint, along with
the threat one or more of these sanctions will be deployed -- to prevent
its members from leaving the Church. This coercion is similar to the coercion
found in Molko and far different from the threat of divine retribution our
Supreme Court held was nonactionable. (46 Cal.3d at pp. 1120, 1122 ["To
the extent the claims are based merely on threats of divine retribution
if [the plaintiffs] left the church, they cannot stand"].) Instead,
Scientology promised -- and in this case delivered -- retribution in the
here and now.
In O'Moore v. Driscoll (1933) 135 Cal.App. 770 [28 P.2d 438], cited with
approval by the California Supreme Court in Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn.,
supra, 46 Cal.3d 1092, 1114, a Catholic priest sued a Catholic organization
and an ordained priest for false imprisonment when the plaintiff was restrained
in an asylum run by the Catholic Church to compel his confession to criminal
acts. The practice of confessing one's sins is an established religious
practice of the Catholic church. But that did not immunize the defendants
from liability for harm the plaintiff suffered where the religious practice
was imposed on him in a coercive environment. (Driscoll, supra, 135 Cal.App.
at p. 774.)
In the instant case except for the experience on the ship the coercion
was more subtle than physical restraint. Yet the threat of "fair game"
and "freeloader debt" and even the possibility of future physical
restraint loomed over Wollersheim whenever he contemplated leaving Scientology
and terminating auditing or the other practices of that religion.
It is not only the acts of coercion themselves -- the sabotage of Wollersheim's
business and the episode of captivity on the ship -- which are actionable.
These acts of coercion and the threat of like acts make the Church's [212
Cal.App.3d 897] other harmful conduct actionable as well. No longer is Wollersheim's
continued participation in auditing (or for that matter, his compliance
with the "disconnect" order) merely his voluntary participation
in Scientology's religious practices. The evidence establishes Wollersheim
was coerced into remaining a member of Scientology and continuing with the
auditing process. Constitutional guaranties of religious freedom do not
shield such conduct from civil liability. We hold the state has a compelling
interest in allowing its citizens to recover for serious emotional injuries
they suffer through religious practices they are coerced into accepting.
Such conduct is too outrageous to be protected under the Constitution and
too unworthy to be privileged under the law of torts.
We further conclude this compelling interest outweighs any burden such
liability would impose on the practice of auditing. We concede as the California
Supreme Court did in Molko that allowing tort liability for this conduct
imposes some burden on appellants' free exercise of this religion. fn. 4
Despite the possibility of liability Scientologists can still believe it
serves a religious purpose to impose and threaten to impose various sanctions
on staff members or upper level auditors who might leave the church or cease
its core religious practices. But it does place a burden on Scientologists
should they act on that belief. Scientology would be subject to possible
monetary loss if someone suffers severe psychological harm during auditing
where that auditing is conducted under the threat of these sanctions. Likewise,
Scientology may lose some staff members and upper level auditors who would
not continue in the Church or continue to submit to the core practice of
auditing except for their fears of retribution.
Like the Supreme Court in Molko, however, we find these burdens "while
real, are not substantial" and, moreover, are the minimum required
to achieve the state interest. To borrow from the high court's language
in Molko: "Being subject to liability [for coerced auditing] does not
in any way or degree prevent or inhibit [Scientologists] from operating
their religious communities, worshipping as they see fit, freely associating
with one another, selling or distributing literature, proselytizing on the
street, soliciting funds, or generally spreading [L. Ron Hubbard's] message
among the population. It certainly does not ... compel [Scientologists]
to perform acts 'at odds with fundamental tenets of their religious beliefs.'
[Citation omitted.]" (Molko v. Holy Spirit Assn., supra, 46 Cal.3d
1092, 1117.) [212 Cal.App.3d 898]
Most significantly, by imposing liability in the instant case we "in
no way or degree prevent or inhibit" Scientology from continuing the
free exercise of the religious practice of auditing. Returning to the words
of the Supreme Court: "At most, it potentially closes one questionable
avenue for" coercing certain members to remain in the church and to
continue its core practices such as auditing. (46 Cal.3d at p. 1117.)
D. The "Disconnect" Policy Is Not a Constitutionally Protected
Religious Practice in the Circumstances of This Case
Substantial evidence supports the conclusion Scientology encouraged Wollersheim
to "disconnect" from family members, including his wife and parents.
Furthermore, substantial evidence supports the conclusion Scientology has
a general policy of encouraging members to "disconnect" from non-Scientologists
who oppose Scientology or express reservations about its teachings.
The first question is whether the "disconnect" policy qualifies
as a "religious practice" of Scientology. The trial court did
not grant summary adjudication on this factual issue. Nonetheless, we find
the evidence supported the conclusion disconnect is a "religious practice."
"Disconnect" is similar in purpose and effect to the "shunning"
practiced by Jehovah's Witnesses and Mennonites, among others. It also shares
some attributes with the remote monasteries common to many other religions.
All of these practices serve to isolate members from those, including family
members, who might weaken their adherence to the religion. Courts have held
these policies qualify as "religious practices" of other religions.
(See, e.g., Paul v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc. of New York, supra,
819 F.2d 875, 879-880; Rasmussen v. Bennett (Mont. 1987) 741 P.2d 755 [church
statements condemning plaintiffs' conduct and calling for shunning were
privileged under the First Amendment].) We see no justification for treating
Scientology's "disconnect" policy differently and thus hold it
is a "religious practice."
We recognize the "shunning" cases have involved claims brought
by former church members whom other family members were ordered to shun.
The instant case, in contrast, involves a cause of action brought by a former
church member ordered to shun the rest of his family not the other way around.
In the circumstances of this case this is a distinction without a difference.
Here appellant caused Wollersheim to isolate himself from his parents, wife
and other family members even though appellant had reason to know it would
inflict serious emotional injury on him. The injury to him and to the family
was just as severe as if his family had "shunned" him.
We need not and do not reach the question whether the practice of "disconnect"
is constitutionally protected religious activity in ordinary circumstances.
[212 Cal.App.3d 899] (Contrast Paul v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc.
of New York, supra, 819 F.2d 875 [religion cannot be held civilly liable
to shunned former member because "shunning" is constitutionally
protected] with Bear v. Reformed Mennonite Church, supra, 341 A.2d 105 [religion
may be civilly liable to shunned former member because "shunning"
must yield to compelling state interest in promoting family relations].)
Whether or not the "disconnect" policy is constitutionally protected
when practiced in a voluntary context it is not so protected if practiced
in the coercive environment appellant imposed on Wollersheim. The reasons
are the same as apply to "auditing." (See pp. 893-898, ante.)
Substantial evidence supports the finding Scientology created this coercive
environment and Wollersheim continued to submit to the practices of the
church such as "disconnect" because of that coercion. Furthermore,
the evidence in the instant case is sufficient to support a factual finding
appellant imposed the "disconnect" policy on Wollersheim with
the knowledge he was psychologically susceptible and therefore would suffer
severe emotional injury as a result. Accordingly, in the circumstances of
this case, the free exercise clause did not immunize appellants from liability
for the "disconnect" policy practiced on respondent.
 E. Scientology's Improper Disclosure of Information Wollersheim Gave
During Confidential Religious Sessions Is Not Religious Expression Immunized
From Liability by the Constitution
There is substantial evidence Wollersheim divulged private information
during auditing sessions under an explicit or implicit promise the information
would remain confidential. Moreover, there is substantial evidence Scientology
leaders and employees shared this confidential information and used it to
plan and implement a "fair game" campaign against Wollersheim.
Scientology argues there also is substantial evidence in the record supporting
its defense that Scientology leaders and employees shared this confidential
information only in accordance with normal procedures and for the purpose
of gaining the advice and assistance of more experienced Scientologists
in evaluating Wollersheim's auditing sessions. However, the jury was entitled
to disregard this innocent explanation and to believe Wollersheim's version
of how and why Scientology divulged information he had supplied in confidence.
The intentional and improper disclosure of information obtained during
auditing sessions for nonreligious purposes can hardly qualify as "religious
expression." To clarify the point, we turn once again to a hypothetical
situation which presents a rough analogy under a traditional religion. Imagine
a stockbroker had confessed to a cleric in a confessional that he had engaged
in "insider trading." Sometime later this same stockbroker leaves
[212 Cal.App.3d 900] the church and begins criticizing it and its leadership
publicly. To discredit this critic, the church discloses the stockbroker
has confessed he is an insider trader. This disclosure might be said to
advance the interests of the cleric's religion in the sense it would tend
to discourage former members from criticizing the church. But to characterize
this violation of religious confidentiality as "religious expression"
would distort the meaning of the English language as well as the United
States Constitution. This same conclusion applies to Scientology's disclosures
of Wollersheim's confidences in the instant case. And, since these disclosures
do not qualify as "religious expression" they do not qualify for
protection under the freedom of religion guaranties of the Constitution.
(See Discussion at pp. 887-889, supra.)
III. The Cause of Action for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Injury
Must Be Reversed
For reasons set forth in section II, we have concluded Scientology is
not constitutionally immunized from civil liability for its cumulative course
of conduct to intentionally inflict emotional injury on Wollersheim. 
However, this course of conduct does not supply a suitable predicate for
a cause of action based on negligent infliction of emotional injury. These
actions are potentially actionable only when they are driven by an animus
which can properly qualify them as "outrageous conduct." That
is, they must be done for the purpose of emotionally injuring the plaintiff,
or at the least with reckless disregard about their adverse impact on plaintiff's
mental health. (Nally v. Grace Community Church, supra, 47 Cal.3d 278, 300;
Miller v. National Broadcasting Co. (1986) 187 Cal.App.3d 1463, 1487 [232
Cal.Rptr. 668, 69 A.L.R.4th 1027].)
We have held in the prior section that Scientology and its leaders indeed
engaged in these actions with an intent to emotionally injure Wollersheim.
But this intentional activity was alleged in the intentional infliction
of emotional injury count and was tried under that count. The negligence
count, on the other hand, of necessity alleges a lesser degree of culpability
and can be sustained only if the defendant could be liable even if the emotional
injuries were caused by completely unintentional, merely negligent acts
or omissions. (See Slaughter v. Legal Process Courier Service (1984) 162
Cal.App.3d 1236, 1249 [209 Cal.Rptr. 189];6 Witkin, Summary of Cal.Law (9th
ed. 1988) Torts, § 838, p. 195.)
In this context, Scientology is responsible only if it or any other religion
could be held liable where through inadvertence something it or its leaders
did damaged someone's business and thereby caused the businessman emotional
injury. Or if it or any other religion could be held liable where it inadvertently
revealed some information a member had disclosed in [212 Cal.App.3d 901]
confidence as part of a religious practice like auditing or a confession.
Or if it or another religion could be held liable where its functionaries
inadvertently said something during auditing or a sermon or a confession
which triggered a listener's nascent mental illness.
At bottom, this question of duty is a matter of weighing competing public
policy considerations. (Dillon v. Legg (1968) 68 Cal.2d 728, 734 [69 Cal.Rptr.
72, 441 P.2d 912, 29 A.L.R.3d 1316]; Ballard v. Uribe (1986) 41 Cal.3d 564,
572, fn. 6 [224 Cal.Rptr. 664, 715 P.2d 624].) fn. 5 On balance, the religious
freedom consideration outweighs any concern about spreading the cost of
emotional injury, reducing the frequency of such emotional injuries, and
the like. It is one thing to say we will impose liability when a religious
organization intentionally or recklessly sets out to ruin a business or
to reveal confidential information or to "audit" mercilessly or
to "disconnect" a psychologically weak person from his family
and thereby succeeds in emotionally injuring a member or former member of
that religion. It is quite another to impose liability for negligent acts
which inadvertently cause the same types of injuries. (See Coon v. Joseph
(1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 1269, 1273 [237 Cal.Rptr. 873].)
Since we hold religious organizations owe no duty to members or former
members with respect to these forms of injury, the cause of action for negligent
infliction of emotional injury must be reversed. We need not, however, reverse
the entire judgment.
Here, the jury found the Church liable for both negligent and intentional
infliction of emotional distress. As we discussed above, there is substantial
evidence to support a finding on the intentional infliction theory. We may
fairly presume any damages awarded on the negligence theory are subsumed
in the award for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Accordingly,
any error in allowing the jury to consider the negligence theory does not
affect the judgment. (See Vahey v. Sacia (1981) 126 Cal.App.3d 171, 179-180
[178 Cal.Rptr. 559]; Bacciglieri v. Charles C. Meek Milling Co. (1959) 176
Cal.App.2d 822, 826 [1 Cal.Rptr. 706].)
IV. The Trial Court Properly Denied Appellant's Motions to Dismiss for
Failure to File Before the Statute of Limitations Had Expired on Wollersheim's
Causes of Action
Scientology argues on appeal, as it did at virtually every opportunity
below, that Wollersheim's causes of action are barred by the statute of
[212 Cal.App.3d 902] limitations. At each and every juncture the various
trial judges who heard these arguments rejected them. These judges ruled
correctly that Wollersheim's causes of action were subject to the discovery
rule. (3 Witkin, Cal. Procedure (3d ed. 1985) Actions, § 356, p. 383.)
The issue in each instance, thus, was when Wollersheim discovered, or should
have discovered, all of the elements of his cause of action against Scientology.
(See Leaf v. City of San Mateo (1980) 104 cal.App.3d 398, 407-408 [163 Cal.Rptr.
711].) The trial judges properly ruled this issue, in turn, was a jury question.
(Id. at p. 409.)
On appeal, this court is bound to uphold the jury's resolution of these
factual questions unless we determine the findings are not supported by
substantial evidence. After a careful review of the evidence, we conclude
these findings about the timeliness of Wollersheim's filing of this case
are supported by substantial evidence. Consequently, we affirm the rulings
by the judges below and, furthermore, we likewise affirm the factual findings
the jury impliedly made that Wollersheim did not discover and should not
have discovered his causes of action until a time within the statutory period.
V. The Trial Court Did Not Commit Instructional Error or Evidentiary
Error During This Five-month Trial Which Denied Appellant a Fair Trial or
Due Process of Law
Appellant's final contention is that it was denied a fair trial and due
process of law because of various instructional and evidentiary rulings
the court made during this five-month trial. Considering the length of the
trial it is surprising appellant was able to identify so few questionable
 Appellant first complains the trial court erroneously denied two
instructions it requested. The first of these instructions restated the
elements of the cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional
distress or outrageous conduct with a slant favoring appellant's position.
fn. 6 [212 Cal.App.3d 903]
As requested the instruction implied the jury was to disregard evidence
of appellant's acts which did not fit precisely under the courses of conduct
as appellant defined them. Actually the plaintiff's causes of action were
broader in many respects than the descriptions the appellant requested.
Moreover, some of the evidence introduced at the trial related to acts relevant
to issues of appellant's state of mind (intent, motivation, and the like)
and whether respondent was voluntarily participating in Scientology's practices
or was doing so within a coercive environment. Accordingly, the instruction
as requested would have been misleading to the jury. The trial court gave
an instruction which set forth the elements of the cause of action. Any
amplification of that instruction should have been more accurate than the
one appellant requested and less misleading as to the full scope of the
jury's range of inquiry. Thus it was not error to refuse to give this instruction.
 Appellant also complains about the refusal of one of its requested
instructions ordering the jury in very specific fashion to disregard evidence
presented which was relevant to the nonsuited fraud counts. Again, the requested
instruction was stated in overbroad terms and unduly slanted in appellant's
direction. For instance, as requested, it instructed the jury that "it
must disregard evidence presented in this trial regarding statements purportedly
made to [the plaintiff] to induce his participation in defendant church."
If given, this instruction could have misled the jury into believing it
must disregard evidence which provided context for the intentional infliction
count or which went to the presence or absence of coercion and appellant's
state of mind. So once again it was not error to refuse these instructions.
(See Wank v. Richman & Garrett (1985) 165 Cal.App.3d 1103, 1113 [211
Cal.Rptr. 919]; Lubek v. Lopes (1967) 254 Cal.App.2d 63, 73 [62 Cal.Rptr.
In any event, on reviewing the total evidence offered in this trial,
we find that even if it were error to refuse these instructions that error
was not prejudicial. (Henderson v. Harnischfeger (1974) 12 Cal.3d 663, 670
[117 Cal.Rptr. 1, 527 P.2d 353]; Williams v. Carl Karcher Enterprises, Inc.
(1986) 182 Cal.App.3d 479, 489 [227 Cal.Rptr. 465]; see 9 Witkin, Cal. Procedure,
supra, Appeal, § 352, pp. 355-356.) We cannot say that the giving of
these instructions would have substantially enhanced the chances appellant
would have prevailed.
Appellant likewise complains about evidentiary rulings. Although it mentions
only a handful of specific incidents, it accuses the judge of admitting
a mass of prejudicial evidence about actions Scientology took toward third
[212 Cal.App.3d 904] persons. In its brief appellant concedes this evidence
was admissible under Evidence Code section 1101, subdivision (b) as proof
of "intent" and "malice." fn. 7 But it asks us to reverse
the trial court under Evidence Code section 352 on grounds the relevance
of this evidence was overwhelmed by its prejudicial effect. fn. 8
 In reviewing the trial court's exercise of its discretion under
section 352, appellate courts traditionally give great deference to the
trial court's evaluation of relevance versus prejudice. (See People v. Mota
(1981) 115 Cal.App.3d 227, 234 [171 Cal.Rptr. 212]; 1 Johnson, Cal. Trial
Guide (1988) § 22.40, p. 22-43.) In the instant case we do not find
an abuse of discretion. Much of the evidence appellant objects to was highly
relevant to show the network of sanctions and coercive influences with which
Scientology had surrounded Wollersheim. Much of the rest was highly relevant
to show Wollersheim's state of mind while undergoing audit, disconnect and
the like or appellant's state of mind, that is, its intent, malice, motives,
and the like. Whatever prejudice to appellant may have accompanied introduction
of this evidence it does not "substantially outweigh" the probative
value of the evidence to important issues in this case.
Finally, appellant complains about the alleged prejudicial conduct of
Wollersheim's counsel during the trial and closing argument. As was true
of its claims of instructional and evidentiary evidence, appellant provides
us with only a few examples of alleged prejudicial error and imply these
are but the tip of the iceberg. It confines itself to this handful of incidents
either because no other potentially prejudicial incidents occurred or because
it expects this court to do its job by scouring the 25,000-page record for
other examples to bolster its claim of error. If what appellant sets forth
in its brief represent the only incidents it alleges as prejudicial conduct,
we find them insufficient to justify reversal under applicable standards
of prejudice. (Garden Grove School Dist. v. Hendler (1965) 63 Cal.2d 141,
144 [45 Cal.Rptr. 313, 403 P.2d 721] [attorney misconduct only requires
reversal if "it is reasonable to conclude that a verdict more favorable
to defendants would have been reached but for the error"]; see 9 Witkin,
Cal. Procedure, supra, § 340, p. 346.) And if these brief examples
were only an invitation to do [212 Cal.App.3d 905] appellant's work in identifying
prejudicial error in its opposing attorney's conduct, we decline that invitation.
(Horowitz v. Noble (1978) 79 Cal.App.3d 120, 139 [144 Cal.Rptr. 710] ["'The
reviewing court is not required to make an independent, unassisted study
of the record in search of error or grounds to support the judgment'"];
Wint v. Fidelity & Casualty Co. (1973) 9 Cal.3d 257, 265 [107 Cal.Rptr.
175, 507 P.2d 1383, 90 A.L.R.3d 1185].)
VI. The General Damages and Punitive Damages the Jury Awarded Are Excessive
for the Intentional Infliction of Emotional Injury Count and Thus Those
Damage Awards Must Be Reduced
In the previous section, we concluded the allegations which are supported
by substantial evidence are enough to sustain a cause of action for intentional
infliction of emotional injury against Scientology. But that conclusion
does not determine whether the proved allegations support the level of damages
the jury awarded under this cause of action. We turn to that issue now.
We are only concerned now with whether a reasonable juror could have
found this level of "outrageous" conduct inflicted $5 million
worth of emotional injury on Wollersheim. Similarly, we ask whether this
level of "outrageous" conduct and Scientology's degree of intent
in carrying it out warrant $25 million in punitive damages. We conclude
these awards are excessive for the conduct alleged and proved in this case.
 An award for compensatory damages will be reversed or reduced "upon
a showing that it is so grossly disproportionate to any reasonable view
of the evidence as to raise a strong presumption that it is based upon prejudice
or passion." (Koyer v. McComber (1938) 12 Cal.2d 175, 182 [82 P.2d
941]; accord Schroeder v. Auto Driveaway Co. (1974) 11 Cal.3d 908, 919 [114
Cal.Rptr. 622, 523 P.2d 662] ["an appellate court may reverse an award
only '"When the award as a matter of law appears excessive, or where
the recovery is so grossly disproportionate as to raise a presumption that
it is the result of passion or prejudice"' [Citations]"]; Fagerquist
v. Western Sun Aviation, Inc. (1987) 191 Cal.App.3d 709, 727 [236 Cal.Rptr.
633]; see 8 Witkin, Cal. Procedure, supra, Attack on Judgment in Trial Court,
§ 46, p. 446.) Even under this stringent standard, it is manifest the
jury's award here is excessive since it is so grossly disproportionate to
the evidence concerning Wollersheim's damages.
Wollersheim's psychological injury although permanent and severe is not
totally disabling. Moreover, even Wollersheim admits Scientology's conduct
[212 Cal.App.3d 906] only aggravated a preexisting psychological condition;
Scientology did not create the condition. While the jury awarded Wollersheim
$5 million in compensatory damages, we determine the evidence only justifies
an award of $500,000.
 "It is well established that a reviewing court should examine
punitive damages and, where appropriate, modify the amount in order to do
justice." (Gerard v. Ross (1988) 204 Cal.App.3d 968, 980 [251 Cal.Rptr.
604]; Allard v. Church of Scientology, supra, 58 Cal.App.3d at p. 453.)
In reviewing a punitive damages award, the appellate court applies a standard
similar to that used in reviewing compensatory damages, i.e., whether, after
reviewing the entire record in the light most favorable to the judgment,
the award was the result of passion or prejudice. (See Bertero v. National
General Corp. (1974) 13 Cal.3d 43, 64 [118 Cal.Rptr. 184, 529 P.2d 608,
65 A.L.R.3d 878]; Devlin v. Kearny Mesa AMC/Jeep/Renault, Inc. (1984) 155
Cal.App.3d 381, 388 [202 Cal.Rptr. 204].) However, the test here is somewhat
more refined, employing three factors to evaluate the propriety of the award.
The first factor is the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant's
conduct. (Neal v. Farmers Ins. Exchange (1978) 21 Cal.3d 910, 928 [148 Cal.Rptr.
389, 582 P.2d 980].) "[C]learly, different acts may be of varying degrees
of reprehensibility, and the more reprehensible the act, the greater the
appropriate punishment, assuming all other factors are equal." (Ibid.)
The second factor is the relationship between the amount of the award
and the actual harm suffered. (Neal v. Farmers Ins. Exchange, supra, 21
Cal.3d at p. 928; Seeley v. Seymour (1987) 190 Cal.App.3d 844, 867 [237
Cal.Rptr. 282].) This analysis focuses upon the ratio of compensatory damages
to punitive damages; the greater the disparity between the two awards, the
more likely the punitive damages award is suspect. (Seeley v. Seymour, supra,
190 Cal.App.3d at p. 867; see Little v. Stuyvesant Life Ins. Co. (1977)
67 Cal.App.3d 451, 469-470 [136 Cal.Rptr. 653].)
Finally, a reviewing court will consider the relationship of the punitive
damages to the defendant's net worth. (Neal v. Farmers Ins. Exchange, supra,
21 Cal.3d at p. 928; Devlin v. Kearny Mesa AMC/Jeep Renault, Inc., supra,
155 Cal.App.3d at p. 390.) In applying this factor courts must strike a
proper balance between inadequate and excessive punitive damage awards.
"While the function of punitive damages will not be served if the wealth
of the defendant allows him to absorb the award with little or no discomfort,
the function also will not be served by an award which is larger than necessary
to properly punish and deter." (Devlin v. Kearny Mesa AMC/Jeep/Renault,
Inc., supra, 155 Cal.App.3d at p. 391.) [212 Cal.App.3d 907]
 As to the punitive damage award, we find it is not commensurate
with Scientology's conduct in this case. This is not a situation where the
centerpiece of the case involved a Church-ordered physical beating or theft
or criminal fraud against Wollersheim. The "outrageous conduct"
was less outrageous and more subtle than that. We further note Wollersheim's
counsel in the full flood of his emotional summation at the conclusion of
this lengthy trial only deigned to urge the jury to return punitive damages
of as much as "six or seven million dollars."
The evidence admitted at trial supported the finding the appellant church
had a net worth of $16 million at the time of trial. Accepting these figures
as true, the jury awarded Wollersheim 150 percent of appellant's net worth
in punitive damages alone -- 195 percent if compensatory damages are included.
This ratio is well outside the permissible range established in other appellate
cases. (Seeley v. Seymour, supra, 190 Cal.App.3d at p. 869 [punitive damages
reversed; award was 200 percent of defendant's net worth]; Burnett v. National
Enquirer, Inc. (1983) 144 Cal.App.3d 991, 1012 [193 Cal.Rptr. 206, 49 A.L.R.4th
1125] [punitive damages reduced; initial award was 35 percent of defendant's
net worth]; Egan v. Mutual of Omaha Insurance Co. (1979) 24 Cal.3d 809,
824 [169 Cal.Rptr. 691, 620 P.2d 141] [punitive damages reversed; award
was 58 percent of defendant's net income]; Allard v. Church of Scientology,
supra, 58 Cal.App.3d at pp. 445-446, 453 [punitive damages reversed; award
was 40 percent of defendant's net worth]; compare Devlin v. Kearny AMC/Jeep/Renault,
Inc., supra, 155 Cal.App.3d at pp. 391-392 [punitive damages affirmed where
award was 17.5 percent of defendant's net worth]; Schomer v. Smidt (1980)
113 Cal.App.3d 828, 836-837 [170 Cal.Rptr. 662] [punitive damages affirmed;
award was 10 percent of defendant's net worth]; Downey Savings & Loan
Assn. v. Ohio Casualty Ins. Co. (1987) 189 Cal.App.3d 1072, 1100 [234 Cal.Rptr.
835] [punitive damages affirmed; award was 7.2 percent of defendant's net
income].) Respondent asserts appellant's true net worth approaches $250
million not $16 million and thus the punitive damage award is not excessive.
However, respondent failed to prove the higher net worth figure at trial.
Accordingly we reduce the punitive damage award to $2 million.
The judgment is reversed as to the cause of action for negligent infliction
of emotional injury. The judgment as to the cause of action for intentional
infliction of emotional injury is modified to reduce the compensatory damages
to $500,000 and the punitive damages to $2 million. In all other [212 Cal.App.3d
908] respects the judgment is affirmed. Each party to bear its own costs
Lillie, P. J., and Woods (Fred), J., concurred.
FN 1. All discussion in this opinion as to the freedom of religion
provisions of the United States Constitution applies also to appellant's
claims under article I, section 4 of the California Constitution which guarantees
"[f]ree exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or
FN 2. During the 1970's a staff member was paid approximately $17
per week for an expected 50 hours of work. In 1973, Wollersheim earned between
$10 to $18 per week when he worked at the Celebrity Center as a staff member.
This salary was augmented by an occasional $10 bonus.
FN 3. In Molko, two plaintiffs brought actions against the Unification
Church for, inter alia, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress
based upon the Unification Church's initial misrepresentations concerning
its religious affiliation. The Supreme Court held the First Amendment did
not bar the plaintiffs' claims to the extent they were based upon actual
coercive conduct by the Unification Church as opposed to merely the threat
of divine retribution should the plaintiffs leave.
FN 4. "While such liability does not impair the Church's right
to believe in recruiting through deception, its very purpose is to discourage
the Church from putting such belief into practice by subjecting the church
to possible monetary loss for doing so. Further, liability presumably impairs
the Church's ability to convert nonbelievers, because some potential members
who would have been recruited by deception will choose not to associate
with the Church when they are told its true identity." (Molko v. Holy
Spirit Assn., supra, 46 Cal.3d 1092, 1117.)
FN 5. "'[D]uty' is not an immutable fact of nature "'but
only an expression of the sum total of those considerations of policy which
lead the law to say that the particular plaintiff is entitled to protection."'
[Citation.]" (Ballard v. Uribe, supra, 41 Cal.3d at p. 572, fn. 6.)
FN 6. The requested instruction reads: "Plaintiff's claim for
intentional infliction of emotional distress, or outrageous conduct, is
divided into several parts. [¶] First, plaintiff's claim that defendant
engaged in outrageous conduct by subjecting plaintiff to its practice of
auditing -- which, as I shall instruct you, is the central religious practice
of the religion of Scientology. [¶] Second, plaintiff claims that defendant
caused plaintiff to separate from his family and friends as a condition
for remaining in Scientology. [¶] Third, plaintiff claims that defendant
'attacked plaintiff's business' and induced those of his employees who were
Scientologists to leave his employ. [¶] Fourth, plaintiff claims that
defendant disclosed his auditing files in disregard of alleged promises
of confidentiality to persons not authorized to receive them. [¶] All
of these acts were allegedly undertaken to inflict severe emotional distress
upon the plaintiff. [¶] The plaintiff is restricted in this case to
the claims he set forth in his complaint. Evidence of any purported acts
of the defendant not relating to the four categories I have just described
to you may not be considered in determining whether plaintiff has established
that defendant committed the tort of intentional infliction of emotional
FN 7. "Nothing in this section prohibits the admission of evidence
that a person committed a crime, civil wrong, or other act when relevant
to prove some fact (such as motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan,
knowledge, identity, absence of mistake or accident or whether a defendant
in a prosecution for an unlawful sexual act or attempted unlawful sexual
act did not reasonably and in good faith believe that the victim consented)
other than his or her disposition to commit such an act." (Evid. Code,
§ 1101, subd. (b).)
FN 8. "The court in its discretion may exclude evidence if
its probative value is substantially outweighed by the probability that
its admission will (a) necessitate undue consumption of time or (b) create
substantial danger of undue prejudice, of confusing the issues, or of misleading
the jury." (Evid. Code, 5 352, italics added.)