WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Supreme Court today left intact a $1.08 million award against the Cult Awareness Network over the 1991 abduction and attempted deprogramming of a young Kirkland man.
The justices, without comment, rejected an appeal that challenged the award as illegal and unconstitutional.
Lawyers for the now-defunct, Chicago-based network said that holding the nonprofit group legally accountable for the act of one unpaid volunteer was "unprecedented and unsupportable." The appeal said the award threatens other advocacy groups "across the political spectrum."
Jason Scott was 18 when "deprogrammers" took him from his Kirkland home and tried to persuade him to leave a branch of the United Pentecostal Church. Scott was held against his will for five days before he escaped by feigning acceptance of the deprogrammers' positions.
Scott's mother, herself a former member of the church, had contacted a woman who served as an unpaid volunteer for the Cult Awareness Network. She, in turn, put Scott's mother in touch with deprogrammer Rick Ross.
Ross performed successful involuntary deprogrammings on Scott's two younger brothers, but both were under 18 and therefore within their mother's control. Because Scott was not a minor, his involuntary deprogramming was illegal.
Scott sued Ross and two other deprogrammers. His lawsuit also named the Cult Awareness Network as a defendant, based on its volunteers' putting Scott's mother in touch with Ross.
The lawsuit never alleged that any of the network's four paid staff members in Chicago even knew about Scott's abduction and deprogramming. But lower courts found that network volunteers routinely referred callers to deprogrammers.
A federal jury, finding violations of both state common law and federal civil-rights law, awarded Scott nearly $5 million in all - $1,087,500 of it from the Cult Awareness Network.
The network later filed for bankruptcy and was disbanded. The name has been taken over by opponents of the old group's positions.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the award, and the full 9th Circuit court voted against reconsidering the case.