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A stalking and harassment lawsuit against “That ’70s Show” star Danny Masterson and the Church of Scientology must be arbitrated by the Church of Scientology, a Los Angeles judge ruled this week.
The 2019 lawsuit — filed by Masterson’s ex-girlfriend Chrissie Bixler and her husband Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Marie Bobette Riales and two anonymous Jane Does — said there was a “conspiracy to cover up that Daniel Masterson sexually assaulted four young women” and that Masterson, the Church of Scientology and Scientology leader David Miscavige “conspired to and systemically stalked, harassed, invaded their family’s privacy, and intentionally caused them emotional distress to silence and intimidate them.”
In the Wednesday ruling, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Steven Kleifield said that because the plaintiffs “signed lifelong agreements to be bound to arbitrate any and all claims against Scientology” by a panel of Scientologists “in good standing with the Mother Church,” they had to arbitrate their claims through the Church of Scientology.
“Plaintiffs state that they are no longer ‘believers’ in Scientology, and therefore cannot be compelled to participate in a church arbitration. There is nothing to indicate that a condition of the arbitration agreement was that the individual signatory must be a ‘believer’ in order to be bound by it,” Kleifield wrote.
The judge also said he could not rule on whether the church’s arbitration agreements were “fair” because it would require the court to “delve into the doctrines of Scientology.”
“The Court here cannot review the arbitration agreements for unconscionability without stepping into a mire of religious doctrine,” Kleifield wrote. “The First Amendment Free Exercise Clause prevents the Court from engaging in that inquiry.”
Riales, who was not a member of the Church of Scientology, is not bound by the arbitration agreement, but the court will decide at a later date whether she can pursue her case independently of the others.
“This was absolutely the correct result. We look forward to arbitrating the claims, as the Court directed,” Andrew Brettler, an attorney for Masterson, said in a statement.
An attorney for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.
The lawsuit is separate from an ongoing criminal case against Masterson, who was charged with three counts of forcible rape in L.A. last year. His arraignment is scheduled for next Wednesday.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.