Rob Sherman Sr. and his wife Bunny Sherman are acting as plaintiffs on behalf of their minor son Rob Sherman Jr. to sue the Church of Divine Light. The Lawsuit is being charged on the basis that intentional torts were conducted by the Church of Divinity which the family wants to be compensated for with charges against the Church of Divine Light and monetary reward for the financial losses and emotional distress caused by the Church.
Rob and Bunny Sherman claim that their son Rob Junior was deceived and tricked by the Church of Devine Light to attend their regular meetings. In the ensuing weeks, the Church made enforced attempts to keep the child away from the parents and his house by initially making excuses for not allowing the child to go home. However, when these did not prove effective in the long term, the Church made visible verbal threats to Rob Jr. with the statement “If you leave, you will be thrown into the eternal fires of Hell, and you will not be allowed back.”. The child gave in to the threat and remained with the church for the next 6 months and sent his parents a letter explaining requesting monetary funds for his expenses for staying with his ‘new’ family the Church. After almost six months the parents of Rob Jr. took actionable steps to meet their son and forcefully bring him home where he was kept under careful supervision until the effects of brainwashing wore off.
The issues under consideration for this case are as follows
- Rob Sherman Jr. is a minor, and therefore in place of him, are his parents able to lodge a case against the Church of Divine Light
- Can the charge of false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and fraud through misrepresentation be litigated against the Church of Divine Light
- Can the highlighted tort offenses be successful in terms of litigation
- Can the minor plaintiff Rob Jr. prove his false imprisonment and emotional distress to the court against the Church of Divine Light
Rules and Torts (And their elements)
The tort laws that are under consideration in the case include the following.
False imprisonment is an element of tort that can be classified as a crime as well. Under this tort, the individual is kept under restriction and imprisonment without any authority or legal jurisdiction over the independence of the individual.
The elements of tort that apply to false imprisonment pertain to the party that imprisons the individual having a strong intention to confine the individual, the imprisoned person not having any possible way of escaping from the imprisonment. Moreover, under this tort, it is not required for the confined individual to be harmed in any manner during their imprisonment.
These elements can be applied to the case, as the church of Divine Light does not have any right or jurisdiction to keep a minor Rob Jr. at their facility without the permission of his parents. Secondly, during his stay, Rob Jr. was brainwashed and threatened against escaping which led to him not being able to escape from the Church.
The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress occurs in a case where the plaintiff suffers excessive emotional and or mental distress at the hands of another.
The elements of the tort include that the defendant in the case conducted the tort with strong intentions, the actions carried out by the defendant which resulted in emotional distress for the plaintiff were extreme in nature and that the plaintiff suffers emotional and mental distress as a result of the actions of the defendant.
In the case of Sherman against the Church of Divine Light, the Church of Divine Light intentionally threatened Rob Jr. with verbal threats to keep him away from his family and home, while there was also the intention of causing emotional distress to the parents as a result of the separation from their minor child. Secondly, Rob Jr. along with his parents Rob Sr. and Bunny Sherman suffered severe and mental distress from their separation and during the time it took for Rob Jr. to recover from the brainwashing that was inflicted by the Church of Divine Light.
Fraud by misrepresentation is a crime whereby one party presented fabricated information to the other for the purpose of attaining an objective or conducting a transaction.
The elements of the tort, fraud by misrepresentation include the defendant believing the representation base on previous facts, the representation provided is false, the defendant being aware of the representation as being false, the defendant intentionally using the fraudulent representation to attain personal gain or objectives and the plaintiff not being aware that the representation is false at the time it was made.
In the case of Sherman against the Church of Devine Light, the fraudulent representation under discussion is the letter written by Rob Jr. to his parents requesting money for his stay at the Church and starting his departure from home to reside with his ‘new’ family at the Church. The representation was forcefully made using verbal threats issued by the Church to Rob Jr. At the time when the representation was made, the Church was aware of it being illegal and fraudulent as it was forcefully made, while the parents of Rob Jr. who were sent the letter requesting monetary funds were not aware of the representation being made through force by the Church on Rob Jr., As a result, the Shermans provided the Church with the funds for the care of their son while in turn they were harmed through isolation form their son Rob Jr.
The Shermans can build their case against the Church of Divine Light by focusing on the individual torts committed by the Church.
In order to depict false imprisonment, the Shermans can depict how the Church brainwashed the children in the Church to lure them into the cult and then alienate them from their parents while the children are under the influence of the Church’s preaching. Similarly, the threats issued by the Church on the children of sending them to hell on misbehavior or lack of obedience should also be brought to light as they support forceful false imprisonment by the Church of Rob Jr.
The tort of emotional distress can be eloquently depicted by the Shermans in the form of the distress that was faced by the child during his stay with the church where he was constantly forced to obey rules and isolate his parents. Similarly, the emotional distress of the parents can also be counted here which arose from their isolation from the child. The position of the Church as knowingly influencing the emotional and mental distress of the children and their families will need to be highlighted.
The tort of fraud through misrepresentation can be depicted through the fabricated letter that was sent by Rob Jr. to his parents under threat from the Church which requested funds for his stay at the church which was mentioned in the letter to be his ‘new’ family. It can be highlighted that the letter was written by Rob Jr. under distress and threats from the Church, while the Church fully knew the illegality of the letter and its nature of being fabricated. The parents however can enforce their statement and prove that they were not aware of the letter being fabricated when they sent the Church funds for Rob Jr. as requested by the letter.
The brainwashing element can be highlighted as a strong point in the case (Hamilton, 2000) as previous cases of similar brainwashing by cults have yielded positive results for the plaintiffs. In the case of George v. ISKCON Robin George claimed that she was brainwashed by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and claimed damages for emotional distress which she was awarded by the Jury. The influence of cults was also the highlight in the case of Wollersheim v. Church Of Scientology where the influence of the cult’s teachings on the minds of the children was explored. This can be used to support Rob Jr.’s behavior as under the influence of the Church of Divine Light.
The Sherman family can focus on the element of the family being dispersed and broken by the Church of Divine Light with the forceful restraint of Rob Jr. and isolation from his parents. This can be beneficial for the case as the court tends to encourage family values and the family establishment as well as depicted in the case of Reynolds v. the United States.
Lawsuits and cases against cult groups acting separately for their own benefits have increased in the last decades. This provides that the Shermans have an effective string case against the Church of Divine Light and therefore can demand damages on the basis of the torts committed by them against the family and on their minor son Rob Jr. The damages that can be claimed by the plaintiff include nominal compensation for the emotional distress that their child and the family suffered from isolation at the hands of the Church of Divine Light. Other damages can take the form of the reclamation of the funds provided by the family to the Church for the stay of their son, which is depicted as being forceful, through fraudulent misrepresentation.
Hamilton, M., The Elizabeth Smart Case: Why We Need Specific Laws Against Brainwashing, Find Law, (2003). Web.
George v. ISKCON, 27-756S (1977).
Reynolds v. the United States, 98 U.S. 145, (1878).
Wollersheim v. Church Of Scientology, 117N U.S., (1986).
Vitucci, C., Scientologist electrocuted: A Church of Scientology member was electrocuted in a bizarre accident Sunday morning in an underground vault at the church’s film studio north of San Jacinto, authorities said, The Riverside Press-Enterprise, (2000).