Judge guts Leah Remini’s harassment lawsuit against Church of Scientology

A Scientology spokesperson called the ruling "a resounding victory for the Church and free speech."

Courthouse News/March 13, 2024

By Hillel Aron

Los Angeles — Leah Remini's lawsuit against the Church of Scientology for defamation and harassment will survive, though only just, after an LA Superior Court judge struck down the majority of the actress' complaint on Tuesday.

Church of Scientology spokesperson Karin Pouw called the ruling "a resounding victory for the Church and free speech," adding in an email, "the Church is entitled to its attorney fees and will be seeking them."

Remini, who gained fame as a co-star on the sitcom "King of Queens," was a member of the Church of Scientology for more than 35 years, starting at the age of eight. She estimates to have spent more than $5 million on classes, services and donations to the organization. When she broke with Scientology in 2013, she soon became one of the church's most vocal critics, largely through a memoir, "Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology," and a TV docuseries, "Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath."

The church responded to Remini in kind, producing a slew of videos and articles attacking her as a racist and bigot, suggesting that she had inspired hate crimes against Scientologists. The headline of one article read, "As the World Remembers the Holocaust, Bigot Leah Remini Inspires Praise of Hitler."

In August 2023, Remini filed a suit accusing the church of orchestrating a vicious online campaign against her, where she said, “for the past ten years, Ms. Remini has been stalked, surveilled, harassed, threatened, intimidated, and, moreover, has been the victim of intentional malicious and fraudulent rumors via hundreds of Scientology-controlled and -coordinated social media accounts that exist solely to intimidate and spread misinformation."

Remini also accused the church of having her followed and surveilled by private detectives.

The church filed an anti-SLAPP motion — a legal maneuver used to quickly throw out suits that are meant to discourage free speech or public participation — arguing that the church and its members were simply fighting Remini's "hate speech" with their own speech. As for surveilling Remini, the church said that was part of its "pre-litigation stance" in anticipation of Remini's lawsuit.

In his 37-page ruling, Superior Court Judge Randolph Hammock agreed to strike more than a dozen paragraphs of Remini's complaint as untimely, finding that those claims took place before Aug. 2, 2022 and it was too late to sue over them. The judge also struck down most of the defamation claims, finding that most of them were not false assertions of fact.

"None of these are actionable," Hammock explained during a hearing in January. "They're not very nice things to say about someone. They usually demonstrate malice when you call someone names. We know she’s not a Nazi. You guys call her a Nazi. That’s fine. That’s your right under the First Amendment. I understand. She attacks you. You attack her."

At least one defamation claim was allowed to survive. Remini, in her complaint, accused Scientology of enlisting dozens of its members "to record videotaped messages (in Scientology production studios) to make disparaging and false claims against Ms. Remini — including false and defamatory statements that she was abusive to her mother and daughter."

Unlike most of the other accusations, Hammock wrote, claiming that someone abused their mother and daughter is an assertion of fact, and so he allowed that part of the complaint to survive.

The judge also allowed Remini's harassment claim, based on having the private detective follow her around, to survive. He found that the surveillance started in 2013, well before Remini was contemplating a lawsuit.

"Plaintiff made her demands— the so-called extortion — in late 2016, after the surveillance had already begun," Hammock wrote. "This court is mindful that some of the allegations involving surveillance occurred after 2016. But if defendants were willing to surveil Plaintiff before the threat of any litigation occurred, they are hard-pressed to demonstrate any protected 'pre- litigation' surveillance after the fact."

The judge's ruling leaves a small fraction of Remini's complaint still standing.

Remini's lawyers did not immediately respond to an email or a phone call requesting a comment on the ruling.

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