ST. PETERSBURG -- A woman who died while in the care of the Church of Scientology was not being held against her will, a judge said in dismissing one of four counts in a wrongful death suit.
Lisa McPherson, a 36-year-old Scientologist, died in 1995 after 17 days in the care of Scientology members at the church's headquarters at Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater.
"Not only is there no evidence that Lisa was brought to the Fort Harrison against her will, but the evidence is uncontroverted that, by every objective measure, Lisa agreed, consented and wished to go there," Circuit Judge Frank Quesada said in dismissing the false imprisonment claim brought by McPherson's estate.
Based on undisputed facts of the case, the estate made no showing that McPherson was unlawfully restrained against her will, Quesada wrote in a 49-page opinion granting a summary judgment. "In fact, all of the evidence indicates the opposite."
> The judge said the woman refused psychiatric observation or admission at a hospital and stated her wishes to receive assistance from Scientologists.
Ken Dandar, a lawyer representing the estate, had maintained McPherson was psychotic and incapable of giving her consent when she was taken to the Fort Harrison.
But the judge said McPherson was exercising her constitutional right of privacy to refuse medical treatment at Morton Plant Hospital and to go instead to the Fort Harrison to receive care at the church's facility. Had the hospital refused to release her, that would have constituted false imprisonment, Quesada said.
Church workers were not only entitled, but legally bound, to respect McPherson's "constitutionally protected choice," Quesada said.
Pat Harney, a church spokeswoman, hailed the decision Friday, saying it "determines unequivocally" McPherson freely chose to go to the hotel and was never held against her will.
Dandar said he will appeal Quesada's ruling.
Dandar said the decision was not crucial to the case. "Even if the jury were going to believe that Lisa wanted and consented to go to the hotel, she never consented to dying," he said.
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