Founding Church of Scientology v. United States

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Citation409 F.2d 1146
Docket NumberNo. 21483.,21483.
PartiesThe FOUNDING CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY OF WASHINGTON, D. C., et al., Appellants, v. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee.
Decision Date05 February 1969


Mr. Oscar H. Brinkman, Washington, D. C., for appellants.

Mr. Nathan Dodell, Asst. U. S. Atty., with whom Messrs. David G. Bress, U. S. Atty., Frank Q. Nebeker, Asst. U. S. Atty., William W. Goodrich, Assistant General Counsel, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and Joanne S. Sisk, Attorney, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before WRIGHT, McGOWAN and ROBINSON, Circuit Judges.

J. SKELLY WRIGHT, Circuit Judge:

This is an appeal from a judgment and decree of condemnation and destruction against several electrical instruments and a large quantity of literature owned by claimants-appellants, The Founding Church of Scientology of Washington, D. C. and various individual adherents of that organization. The instruments and literature were seized by the Food and Drug Administration as "devices" with accompanying "false and misleading labeling" subject to condemnation under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. § 301 et seq. (1964). The Government further charged that the instruments were "devices" lacking "adequate directions for use," in further violation of the Act.1 After a jury trial, a general verdict "for the Government" was returned, and a judgment and decree of condemnation was entered.

Appellants contend that the seizure of the articles violated their Fourth Amendments rights, that the proceedings interfered with the free exercise of their religion, and that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the verdict. Because we find that much of the literature relied on by the Government to establish misbranding was not "labeling"2 within the meaning of the statute as interpreted in the light of the First Amendment, we reverse.


At the outset, we confront appellants' claim that the disputed instruments and literature, the res of this lawsuit, were seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Act provides that misbranded devices "shall be liable to be proceeded against * * * on libel of information,"3 and that such devices "shall be liable to seizure by process pursuant to the libel, and the procedure in cases under this section shall conform, as nearly as may be, to the procedure in admiralty * * *."4 The applicable procedure in admiralty at the time of the seizure was provided in former Admiralty Rule 21, the text of which is set out in the margin.5

The Government complied with the procedures required by statute and rule in this case. Pursuant to the inspection provisions of the Act, FDA agents visited the Founding Church of Scientology, obtained a demonstration of the instrument later seized, and bought copies of the literature later alleged to be "labeling" of the instrument. The United States Attorney then filed a libel of information with the District Court, describing the instrument and literature and averring that together they constituted a "device" and accompanying "false or misleading labeling" subject to condemnation under the Act. The court ordered issuance of a warrant authorizing seizure of the instruments and literature, and public advertisement of the seizure. FDA agents and United States Marshals carried out the seizure on January 4, 1963, at various premises owned by appellant Founding Church and its affiliates, after service of the warrant of attachment.

Appellants6 contend that seizures such as this are governed by the warrant clause of the Fourth Amendment, which provides that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Since in appellants' view the warrant of seizure was not issued "upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation," they contend that the exclusionary rule bars the use in evidence in a condemnation proceeding of the matter seized.

In arguing the Fourth Amendment issue, the parties have concentrated chiefly upon the question whether the exclusionary rule applies to condemnation proceedings under the Act.7 Because we find that the seizure in this case was "reasonable" under the applicable Fourth Amendment standards, we do not reach that question.

The Fourth Amendment protects "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." It gives procedural form to this sweeping protection through the warrant clause, which requires that a magistrate review the decision to arrest or search except in exigent cases. The often stated purpose of this requirement is to interpose a relatively detached and independent decision maker between the privacy of the individual and the otherwise unchecked zeal of enforcement officials.8

Though warrants are generally necessary for arrests of persons and for searches, the warrant requirement has not traditionally been imposed upon seizures of the type involved in this case — attachment of property in the course of civil proceedings. This does not mean that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to such seizures, in both its substantive prohibition against unreasonable seizures and its procedural requirement of judicial or quasi-judicial review of the decision to seize. It means merely that judicial restraint is imposed through a different form of proceeding than the showing of probable cause before a magistrate. In the case of ordinary civil attachments, the details of such proceedings are, even in the federal courts, left to state law.9 In cases in admiralty, the process is governed by the Admiralty Rules, lately recodified as a supplement to the Civil Rules.10

Tradition has sanctified these forms and processes of civil attachments, and they have not been subjected to much Fourth Amendment scrutiny in either litigation or scholarly literature. We need not review them generally now, however, for we find that this particular seizure was reasonable in both the grounds supporting it and the judicial supervision over the decision to make it.

The libel of information filed by the United States Attorney particularly described the items to be seized, and gave a reasonably particular account of the respects in which they were thought to contravene the Act.11 Though the libel was not a verified complaint, it has been been held that in admiralty complaints signed by Government officers are attested to by the officer's oath of office.12 The libel was subject to scrutiny by a United States District Judge, and it was only after his review and by court order that the warrant issued. In these circumstances, all requirements imposed by the Fourth Amendment were complied with.13


We turn then to the merits of the Government's case against the instruments and literature subject to the decree of condemnation. The Government has charged that the instruments seized, Hubbard Electrometers or "E-meters," are "devices" as defined in the Act14; that the literature seized constitutes "labeling" of the device, in that it is "written, printed, or graphic matter * * * accompanying" the device15; and that this "labeling" is false or misleading. Because our reading of the Act in its application to this case is influenced by appellants' claims to the free exercise of their religion, some background concerning their movement becomes necessary.

A. Appellants in this case, claimants to the seized materials, are individual and corporate adherents to the movement known as Scientology. The movement apparently rests almost entirely upon the writings of one man, L. Ron Hubbard, an American who maintained the headquarters of the movement in England at the time this action was brought. In the early 1950's, Hubbard wrote tracts elucidating what he called "Dianetics."16 Dianetics is a theory of the mind which sets out many of the therapeutic techniques now used by Scientologists, including techniques attacked by the Government in this case as false healing.

The basic theory of Dianetics is that man possesses both a reactive mind and an analytic mind. The analytic mind is a superior computer, incapable of error, to which can be attributed none of the human misjudgments which create social problems and much individual suffering. These are traceable rather to the reactive mind, which is made up of "engrams," or patterns imprinted on the nervous system in moments of pain, stress or unconsciousness. These imprinted patterns may be triggered by stimuli associated with the original imprinting, and may then produce unconscious or conditioned behavior which is harmful or irrational.17

Dianetics is not presented as a simple description of the mind, but as a practical science which can cure many of the ills of man. It terms the ordinary person, encumbered by the "engrams" of his reactive mind, as a "preclear," by analogy to a computer from which previously programmed instructions have not been erased. The goal of Dianetics is to make persons "clear," thus freeing the rational and infallible analytical mind. The benefits this will bring are set out in considerable and alluring detail. All mental disorders are said to be caused by "engrams," as are all psychosomatic disorders, and that concept is broadly defined.18

A process of working toward "clear" is described as "auditing." This process was explicitly characterized as "therapy" in Hubbard's best-selling book DIANETICS: THE MODERN SCIENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH (1950). The process involves conversation with an "auditor" who would lead the subject or "preclear" along his "time track," discovering and exposing "engrams" along the way. Though auditing is represented primarily as a method of improving the spiritual condition of man,...

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