Landmark Education litigation

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Since its formation in 1991, Landmark Education LLC (LE) has been involved in about a dozen lawsuits in the United States and a few more in Europe.

In about a dozen instances LE has initiated actions to defend itself against what it perceives as malicious or negligent defamatory comments. Critics of Landmark have portrayed these actions as an assault on Free Speech or an attempt to suppress legitimate comment, whereas LE has insisted that it only seeks to have inaccurate statements corrected and to protect its products from unfair disparagement.[1][2]

There have been two cases where actions have been brought against LE alleging harmful results from Landmark’s training programs; and one alleging assault by a member of the company’s staff, but none of these resulted in a ruling in favor of the plaintiff.

Landmark Education was also mentioned in two cases where actions had been brought against employers who, it was claimed, had forced their staff to participate in Landmark training programs. In neither case was the accusation upheld by the court.

Landmark actions for alleged defamation[edit]

Cases in the United States of America[edit]

Condé Nast Publications / Self magazine (1993)[edit]

In 1993, Landmark Education Corporation sued Self Magazine (Condé Nast Publications) for defamation. The defamation claimed by Landmark involved the article published in February 1993. Defendants moved for summary judgment, which the court denied. In a settlement-agreement, LE released Condé Nast Publications from any and all claims relating to the article, and Self Magazine issued a one-sentence editor's note stating that the magazine had no "first-hand" evidence that the "Landmark Forum is a cult".

The Cult Awareness Network / Cynthia Kisser (1994)[edit]

In 1994 Landmark sued the original Cult Awareness Network and Cynthia Kisser (its then Executive Director) for (among other allegations) issuing leaflets about "Destructive Cults". The entry "The Forum/est/the Hunger Project" appeared in a "partial list of groups about which CAN has received complaints."

During a deposition Kisser admitted that CAN held no opinion with respect to classifying LE as a destructive cult.[3]

The agreement reached in November 1997 to conclude this case involved an undertaking by CAN not to distribute its leaflets mentioning Landmark, est or The Forum, or to sell Steven Pressman’s book entitled Outrageous Betrayal.

Dr. Margaret Singer (1996)[edit]

In 1996 Landmark Education Corporation sued Dr. Margaret Singer, an adjunct UC Berkeley professor of psychology, for defamation. Singer had mentioned LE in her co-authored book Cults in Our Midst (1995, ISBN 0-7879-0051-6); the text did not make it entirely clear whether she labeled the organization as a cult or not. The second edition of the book, released before the conclusion of the court case, omitted mentioning Landmark Education by name. Subsequent to the court case, Singer signed a terse statement on 7 May 1997 which read: "I do not believe that either Landmark or The Landmark Forum is a cult or sect, or meets the criteria of a cult or sect." [4] Singer admitted at deposition[5] that she had "no personal, firsthand knowledge of Landmark or its programs."

Elle Magazine - Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. (1998)[edit]

In 1998, Landmark sued Hachette Filipacchi Media, U.S. publishers of Elle Magazine, for an allegedly defamatory article published in Elle magazine (August 1998) written by Rosemary Mahoney and entitled: " Do you believe in miracles?"

The court dismissed the claim, stating that LE had not "pled special damages", and had failed "to adequately plead actual malice".

Landmark Education Corp. vs. Pressman (1998)[edit]

In 1998, Landmark attempted to compel Steven Pressman to respond to deposition-questions aimed at obtaining the confidential sources he had used for research on his book Outrageous Betrayal: The Dark Journey of Werner Erhard from est to Exile (ISBN 0-312-09296-2).

LE brought the suit as a means of compelling discovery for use in the then-active Cult Awareness Network litigation. The discovery commissioner who entered an interim order in the matter commented: "it does not appear that the information sought [from Mr. Pressman] is directly relevant or goes to the heart of the [CAN] action, or that alternative sources have been exhausted or are inadequate."

LE dropped the action against Pressman after the settlement of its litigation against the Cult Awareness Network. (See above)

Rick Ross Institute (2004-2005)[edit]

In June 2004, Landmark Education filed a USD1,000,000 lawsuit against the Rick A. Ross Institute, claiming that the Institute's online archives did damage to LE’s product. In April 2005, LE filed to dismiss its own lawsuit with prejudice on the grounds that a material change in case-law regarding statements made on the Internet occurred in January 2005; see Donato v. Moldow 374 N.J. Super. 475 (N.J. App. Div. 2005), which held an operator of an online bulletin board not liable for defamatory statements posted by others on his bulletin board, unless he made a "material substantive contribution" to the defamatory material. [6] [7]

In 2006, retired Justice Edward Fadeley, of the Oregon Supreme Court, commented on the Donato v. Moldow decision:[8][9]

'The courts aren't helping matters. For example, Landmark Education, an international training and development company that presents The Landmark Forum, dropped its lawsuit in New Jersey against Rick Ross [...]. Landmark Education terminated its lawsuit when, in an unrelated case, a New Jersey court significantly limited the kind of Internet behavior it would consider damages for. Court decisions like that make it even more difficult for companies to protect themselves against misinformation and false accusations.'

Subpoena concerning electronic copies of the France 3 television documentary material (2006)[edit]

In 2003, journalists surreptitiously filmed participants in a Landmark Forum in France, and selected excerpts were incorporated into a television documentary broadcast by France3 in 2004.

LE took the view that the program as a whole was biased, inaccurate and misleading, and that “France 3 has violated the personal rights of individuals unwittingly filmed using hidden cameras.” One of the women shown in the program stated publicly that she felt that it was an intrusion of her privacy and that the extract was taken out of context and that she had benefited from her participation in the Landmark Forum.[10]

Subsequently, an anonymous individual posted this footage on the Internet. Landmark appealed to copyright law and served a subpoena on Internet Archive to have it removed and to reveal the identity of the poster.[11]

The EFF declined, considering that Landmark was misusing copyright law[12] to take down criticisms, referring to what it called Landmark's “Internet censorship campaign”.[13] Landmark withdrew its application.[14]

Cases in Europe[edit]

Martin Lell (Germany)[edit]

After attending the Landmark Forum in Germany, Martin Lell wrote a book titled Das Forum: Protokoll einer Gehirnwäsche: Der Psycho-Konzern Landmark Education [The Forum: Account of a Brainwashing: The Psycho-Outfit Landmark Education], Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich, 1997, ISBN 3-423-36021-6. This book detailed Lell's attendance at the course, and claimed that he had suffered a mental collapse directly afterwards. However, the record at the Hearing indicated that Mr. Lell did not see a doctor; was not hospitalized; did not seek or obtain medication; and was not diagnosed by a medical professional as being brainwashed or having any mental problem.[15])

LE sued to have the word Gehirnwäsche ("brainwashing") removed from the sub-title of Lell's book, but the German court determined that "brainwashing" constituted a matter of opinion [15] rather than an assertion of fact, and allowed the sub-title to remain.

infoSekta (Switzerland)[edit]

The Swiss subsidiary, Landmark Education AG, sued infoSekta (Verein "Informations- und Beratungsstelle für Sekten- und Kultfragen infoSekta" — the infoSekta Association for Information and Advice on matters of Sects and Cults), a Swiss group, on 1995-11-23, demanding that infoSekta cease distributing information about the company. Further discussions followed, and the case concluded by negotiation on 1997-12-18 with infoSekta agreeing not to call Landmark Education a cult. [16]

FACTS Magazine (Switzerland)[edit]

According to a 1999 letter, [17] written by Art Schreiber, the Swiss magazine FACTS [18] referred to Landmark Education as a "cult". The magazine later retracted this statement after Landmark Education took legal action. [19]

Panorama Magazine (The Netherlands)[edit]

In 1999, a district judge in Haarlem, the Netherlands ruled that Panorama magazine acted wrongfully when it labeled Landmark Education as a "cult" in an article[20] on Sekten in Nederland (Cults in the Netherlands) — because Landmark Education did not meet any of the criteria of Panorama's own characterization of cults.[21]

Cases alleging adverse effects of Landmark programs[edit]

Ney vs. Landmark Education et al. (1992)[edit]

In September 1989 Stephanie Ney attended a session of "The Forum", conducted by Werner Erhard (doing business as Werner Erhard & Associates (WE&A)). In 1992 Ney sued Landmark Education Corporation (LEC, seen as the successor-organization of WE&A) for $2,000,000, claiming that three days after attending the Forum she "suffered a breakdown and was committed to a psychiatric institute in Montgomery County". [22] The trial court dismissed Ney's suit on summary judgment, and the appeals court upheld the decision.

Been vs. Weed and Landmark Education Corporation (2002, 2006)[edit]

In 2002 the Jeanne Been vs. Jason Weed came before a court, with Landmark Education as a cross-defendant. Jason Weed had experienced a psychotic episode shortly after taking the "Landmark Advanced Course", and shot and killed a letter-carrier, Robert Jenkins, on December 12, 2001. The court found Jason Weed not guilty by reason of insanity.

Both the family of the deceased Robert Jenkins and the attorneys for Jason Weed contended that the Landmark Education seminar had driven Weed insane,[23] however at the sanity hearing a witness for the US Government, Dr. Harrison Pope - a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist who also helped draft the DSM-III and DSM-IV - testified that he could rule out "steroid use and participation in an exhaustive self-awareness program" as causes of Weed's psychotic break.[24]

In June 2006, the plaintiff refiled the case, as allowed under Oklahoma law, and the case against LE was dismissed again. The District Court of Tulsa County found "that although another defendant is named herein ... the Court directs the preparation and filing of a judgment in favor of Landmark [Education]"[25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "File:2004 Landmark v Ross complaint.pdf - Wikimedia Commons". Commons.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 
  2. ^ "File:2004 Landmark v Ross answer.pdf - Wikimedia Commons". Commons.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 
  3. ^ Deposition of Cynthia Kisser, Superior Court of the State of Illinois, May 15, 1995, passim.
  4. ^ Dr. Margaret Singer, statement, Landmark Education, website, files; retrieved 2008-05-29
  5. ^ Deposition of Cynthia Kisser, Superior Court of the State of Illinois, May 15, 1995, passim
  6. ^ Tech Law Advisor, caselaw, 2005, RE: Communications Decency Act, New Jersey
  7. ^ "Landmark Education Withdraws Lawsuit Against Critic", December 21, 2005, PRNewswire, United Business Media, San Francisco.
  8. ^ Findlaw opinion of Oregon Supreme Court Justice, press-release, 2006
  9. ^ "The Wild, Wild Web - We Need Laws Against Blog Defamation", The Portland Oregonian, June 18, 2006, page C01, Commentary by retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice Edward Fadeley
  10. ^ "accueil". Web.archive.org. 2005-01-25. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 
  11. ^ http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/landmark/archive_landmark_request.pdf
  12. ^ http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/landmark/eff_letter.pdf
  13. ^ Kurt Opsahl (November 17, 2006). "Landmark Forum's Internet Censorship Campaign Goes Down Under". EFF. Retrieved February 23, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Self-Help Group Backs Off Attack on Internet Critic | Electronic Frontier Foundation". Eff.org. 2006-11-30. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 
  15. ^ a b Art Schreiber letter, June 22, 1999
  16. ^ Sträuli, Dieter (1997). "Landmark vs. infoSekta: Geschichte eines Prozesses [Landmark vs infoSekta: Account of a Trial]". infoSekta-Tätigkeitsbericht 1997 [infoSekta-Activity-report 1997] (in German). pp. 16–20. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-09-24. 
  17. ^ Letter from Art Schreiber, June 22, 1999, to SIMPOS, p/a Koppenhinksteeg 2, 2312 HX, Leiden. The Netherlands
  18. ^ FACTS homepage[dead link]
  19. ^ (German) Landmark vs. infoSekta. NB this reference does not relate directly to the FACTS case.
  20. ^ "Sekten in Nederland". Panorama (in Dutch). VNU. 13-20 januari 1999. Retrieved 2008-06-11. 
  21. ^ Art Schreiber of Landmark Education wrote with reference to this case:

    "The facts are clear that Landmark Education and The Landmark Forum are not a sect or cult (the term used for sect [sic] in the United States and other countries).

    "To this end, I am enclosing the following materials which make clear that Landmark Education and The Landmark Forum are not a sect or cult:

    1. The Decision by C.J.J. van Maanen, acting President of the District Court in Haarlem, issued on May 4, 1999 regarding an article published about Landmark Education in Panorama Magazine. Judge van Maanen stated in Sections 3,3,3.4 and 3.6: "It is unmistakable that in Panorama's publication Landmark is qualified as a cult, a word which, according to the first lines of the publication, 'in usage has obtained a very negative image'." "This qualification is unfounded because Panorama could not even subsequently quote a definition of the term 'cult' which is met by Landmark, and left it undisputed that Landmark in any event does not even meet any of the characteristics listed at the beginning of the article in the frame 'how to recognize a cult' . . [sic] Panorama simply called Landmark a cult, using a definition of 'cult' in its publication which is not met by Landmark. Thus, Panorama has acted wrongfully."

    Art Schreiber letter, June 22, 1999, SIMPOS, p/a Koppenhinksteeg 2, 2312 HX, Leiden. The Netherlands

  22. ^ Stephanie Ney case, September 1989, psychiatric breakdown
  23. ^ The Tulsa World, April 4, 2004, "Suit targets firm in postal killing", by Nicole Marshall
    “The lawsuit claims that Jason Weed was driven insane by his treatment during a motivational seminar. Attorneys for Jason Weed and the family of the Tulsa postman he killed agree on one thing — that a motivational seminar he attended days before the shooting drove him insane, according to a pending civil suit.”
  24. ^ Jeanne Been versus Jason Weed with Landmark Education as a cross-defendant, 2002 file from Caselaw
    "Weed's previous steroid use and participation in an exhaustive self-awareness program [the Landmark Advanced Course] the week prior to the shooting could be ruled out as causes of the psychotic break, leaving only 'very rare possibilities' as the triggering factors."
  25. ^ "File:Landmark FJ.pdf - Wikimedia Commons". Commons.wikimedia.org. Retrieved 2013-04-23. 

External links[edit]