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Amato v. Narconon Fresh Start

United States District Court, S.D. California

October 23, 2014

ANGELO AMATO, Plaintiff,
v.
NARCONON FRESH START d/b/a Sunshine Summit Lodge et al., Defendants.

ORDER: (1) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT NARCONON FRESH START D/B/A SUNSHINE SUMMIT LODGE'S MOTION TO DISMISS; [ECF No. 12] (2) GRANTING DEFENDANTS' NARCONON INTERNATIONAL AND ASSOCIATION FOR BETTER LIVING AND EDUCATION INTERNATIONAL MOTION TO DISMISS [ECF No. 13] I. INTRODUCTION

GONZALO P. CURIEL, District Judge.

Before the Court are defendant Narconon Fresh Start d/b/a Sunshine Summit Lodge's ("Fresh Start") Motion to Dismiss, (ECF No. 12), and defendants Narconon International ("NI") and Association for Better Living and Education International's ("ABLE") Motion to Dismiss, (ECF No. 13). Plaintiff Angelo Amato ("Plaintiff") opposed both motions to dismiss. (ECF Nos. 20, 21.) Fresh Start, NI, and ABLE (collectively, "Defendants") responded to Plaintiff's opposition. (ECF Nos. 23, 24.)

The parties have fully briefed the motion. (ECF Nos. 12, 13, 20, 21, 23, 24.) The Court finds the motion suitable for disposition without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1). Upon review of the moving papers, admissible evidence, and applicable law, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Fresh Start's motion to dismiss and GRANTS NI and ABLE's motion to dismiss.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 13, 2014, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging three causes of action. (ECF No. 1.) On June 9, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Fourth Amended Complaint ("FAC") alleging nine causes of action against Fresh Start, NI, and ABLE. (ECF No. 10.) On August 11, 2014, this case was assigned to the Honorable Gonzalo P. Curiel. (ECF No. 16.)

On July 31, 2014, Fresh Start filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint. (ECF No. 12.) On August 6, 2014, NI and ABLE filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint. (ECF No. 13.) On August 6, 2014, NI and ABLE filed a request for judicial notice. (ECF No. 14.) On August 29, 2014, Plaintiff filed oppositions to Fresh Start and NI and ABLE's motions. (ECF Nos. 20, 21.) On August 29, Plaintiff filed a request for judicial notice. (ECF No. 22.) On September 12, 2014, Fresh Start and NI and ABLE filed responses to Plaintiff's oppositions. (ECF No. 23, 24.)

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that he is a mixed martial arts fighter who became addicted to Vicodin prior to December 19, 2013. (FAC ¶ 15.) On approximately December 19, 2013, Plaintiff alleges that he spoke to Fresh Start employee Dan Carmichael ("Carmichael"). (Id. ¶ 13-14.) Plaintiff alleges that Carmichael told Plaintiff that Fresh Start's Narconon "Treatment" Program (the "Narconon Program") is effective because its "New Life Detoxification Program" (the "NLD Program") makes patients sweat out "residual drug toxins" that cause drug cravings. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff alleges that Carmichael told Plaintiff that: (1) the NLD Program had been scientifically and medically proven effective; (2) if Plaintiff underwent the Narconon Program, he would be under the care of a nurse or doctor at all times; (3) if Plaintiff underwent the Narconon Program, Fresh Start would provide Plaintiff with "extensive" drug and addiction counseling; (4) Fresh Start staff are properly trained to care for and treat addicts; and (5) Plaintiff's insurance would reimburse 50% of the cost of the Narconon Program. (Id. ¶ 16-17.) Plaintiff alleges that Carmichael directed Plaintiff to Fresh Start's website for its Warner Springs, California facility, (http://www.sunshinesummitlodge.com), which represented that the Narconon Program had a 76% success rate. (Id. ¶ 18.)

Plaintiff alleges that, based on these representations, he signed a contract to enter the Narconon Program at the Warner Springs facility. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff alleges that the contract stated that the "Narconon Program" was founded by William Benitez, after Benitez was inspired by the philosophy contained in L. Ron Hubbard's book "The Fundamentals of Thought, " and that the "Narconon Program" is "secular (NON-RELIGIOUS)... and... does not include participation in any religious studies of any kind." (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff alleges that the full title of L. Ron Hubbard's book is Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Plaintiff alleges that Carmichael stated that the Narconon Program's fee was $31, 000.00 and that it needed to be paid in full prior to starting the program. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff alleges that Carmichael told Plaintiff that Plaintiff needed to enter the program quickly because "if [Plaintiff] did not get help immediately, [Plaintiff] would end up dead" and there were only two spots left in the program. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff alleges that he was told over the phone that he would have his own room during the Narconon Program. (Id. ¶ 24.)

Plaintiff alleges that there were "numerous empty beds" when he started the Narconon Program. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff alleges that he started detox after entering the Warner Springs facility and was only supervised by a 19-year-old who did not have medical training and slept during the majority of Plaintiff's detox. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff alleges that after he finished detox, he began the Narconon Program and was placed in a room with three people. (Id. ¶ 24.)

Plaintiff alleges that the Narconon Program had two required components: (1) course materials consisting of eight L. Ron Hubbard books, and (2) the NLD Program consisting of a sauna and vitamin regimen. (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff alleges that the course materials taught Scientology doctrines and concepts. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff alleges that the NLD Program is identical to a Scientology ritual known as "Purification Rundown" or the "Purif." (Id. ¶ 29.)

Plaintiff alleges that Fresh Start's rationale for the NLD Program is that: (1) drug residue remains in fatty tissue long after drug use has stopped; (2) drug residue is occasionally released from fatty tissue causing drug cravings and possible relapse; and (3) the sauna flushes drug residue out of fatty tissue. (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiff alleges that the NLD Program contains the following steps repeated daily for five weeks: (1) vigorous exercise; (2) ingestion of increasing doses of Niacin and a "vitamin bomb"; and (3) six hours of sauna at temperatures of 160 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. (Id. ¶ 31-32.)

Plaintiff alleges that the Niacin doses were well beyond the recommended daily allowance. (Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff alleges that no medical personnel oversaw him during the sauna and that the Warner Springs facility was staffed with recent Narconon Program patients. (Id. ¶ 33, 39.) Plaintiff alleges that the claimed benefits of the NLD Program are false and do not withstand scientific scrutiny. (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff alleges that there is no support for the 76% claimed success rate and that NI was aware that there is no support for that claimed success rate. (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff alleges that no Fresh Start staff spoke to Plaintiff about substance abuse and instead Plaintiff only received instruction in Scientology. (Id. ¶ 42-43.) Plaintiff alleges that Fresh Start did not send the required papers to Fresh Start's insurance company, causing Plaintiff to be unable to receive reimbursement from his insurance company. (Id. ¶ 44.)

Plaintiff alleges that Fresh Start and the Church of Scientology consider the Narconon Program to be an initial step towards a key spiritual journey taken by Scientologists. (Id. ¶ 41.) Plaintiff alleges that Fresh Start documents state that patients who complete the Narconon Program are to be sent to the nearest Scientology church "if the individual so desires, " indicating that the Narconon Program is used to recruit patients to the Church of Scientology. (Id. ¶ 40.) Plaintiff alleges that, on January 22, 2014, he left the Narconon Program for several reasons, including that he did not feel safe and that he felt that the Fresh Start staff were not fit to treat him. (Id. ¶ 46.)

Plaintiff alleges that Fresh Start, NI, and ABLE are California corporations. (FAC ¶¶ 2, 3, 7.) Plaintiff alleges that ABLE "governs and controls nearly every aspect of" Fresh Start and NI's business activities. (Id. ¶ 50.) Plaintiff alleges that the "separate corporate existences of [Fresh Start], NI, and Able" constitute "a design or scheme to perpetrate fraud" for the purposes of enrolling people in treatment facilities at the cost of "substantial funds" and to promote Scientology. (Id. ¶ 52.)

Plaintiff alleges nine causes of action against Fresh Start, NI, and ABLE: (1) breach of contract; (2) fraud; (3) negligence; (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"); (5) negligent misrepresentation; (6) injunctive relief; (7) violation of the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c); (8) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and (9) negligence per se. (FAC.)

IV. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Navarro v. Block , 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). Dismissal is warranted under Rule12(b)(6) where the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. , 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984); see Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989) ("Rule12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law."). Alternatively, a complaint may be dismissed where it presents a cognizable legal theory yet fails to plead essential facts under that theory. Robertson , 749 F.2d at 534.

While a plaintiff need not give "detailed factual allegations, " a plaintiff must plead sufficient facts that, if true, "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 547). A claim is facially plausible when the factual allegations permit "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id . In other words, "the non-conclusory factual content, ' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief." Moss v. U.S. Secret Service , 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679.

In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must assume the truth of all factual allegations and must construe all inferences from them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Thompson v. Davis , 295 F.3d 890, 895 (9th Cir. 2002); Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. , 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). Legal conclusions, however, need not be taken as true merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations. ...


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