The Church has previously denied the allegations of the civil suit while Masterson has pleaded not guilty to the rape charges.
A California appeals court has ruled that several women suing actor Danny Masterson for stalking, invasion of privacy, and emotional distress do not have to submit to an arbitration process with the Church of Scientology.
The court ruled that the women have a First Amendment right to leave a religious organization. They are thus not bound by the church’s arbitration rules since the allegations in the lawsuit occurred after they left the Church.
Chrissie Carnell Bixler, her husband Cedrick Bixler-Zavala, Marie Bobette Riales and two other anonymous victims have claimed to be stalked after they reported to police that Masterson had raped the women.
Masterson’s acting credits include eight years on TV’s That ’70s Show and playing Jameson “Rooster” Bennett in Netflix’s The Ranch. On June 17, 2020, he was arrested and charged in connection with four rape allegations.
Today’s appeals case came after Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Steven J. Kleifield ruled in December 2020 that the plaintiffs must go through an internal arbitration process in front of a Church panel.
The court of appeals disagreed.
“Individuals have a First Amendment right to leave a religion. We hold that once petitioners had terminated their affiliation with the Church, they were not bound to its dispute resolution procedures to resolve the claims at issue here, which are based on alleged tortious conduct occurring after their separation from the Church and so not implicate resolution of ecclesiastical issues. We issue a writ directing the trial court to vacate its order compelling arbitration and instead to deny the motion.”
In addition to the Masterson case proceeding, the ruling today would also potentially allow a civil suit to move forward against Scientology, who the plaintiffs says wiretapped them and killed Bixler’s dog. The appeals ruling allows attorneys to go back to the lower court and try to vacate the prior decision.
A report quoting a Church of Scientology lawyer said the organization disagrees with “this unprecedented decision.”
Masterson is currently out on bail of $3.3. million. However, his freedom of movement is curtailed, and he has been forced to turn his passport over to the court.
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