For the past decade, this website, operated by Rick Ross and his non-profit foundation, the Rick A. Ross Institute of New Jersey, has provided a database containing thousands of documents about hundreds of groups and leaders, that permit visitors to examine, without charge, information about cults, destructive cults, controversial groups and movements and many other entities. Furthermore, the website provides a forum for users to discuss anonymously information, personal experiences and personal opinions about such entities, without fear of reprisal or intimidation from these groups. Among the groups covered here, the sections of the website covering Landmark Education, LLC (“Landmark”), the successor to the controversial large group awareness training programs created by “est” founder “Werner Erhard,” a/k/a Jack Rosenberg, are among the most heavily visited areas of the website. For as long as Landmark – and Erhard before it – has been in business, Landmark has been widely and publicly criticized by many former participants, researchers and the press for using methods that are described as “bullying,” “harassing,” “destructive,” and “potentially dangerous.” Many persons have also complained that Landmark uses inappropriately aggressive recruiting techniques, and intimidates participants who wish to leave the program – or even use the bathroom, eat or take medication during the Landmark Forum. The complaints that have been voiced elsewhere have been reported here, by Ross, by journalists whose articles have been reprinted here, and by the users of this site who have participated in Landmark’s programs.
In an effort to suppress this unfavorable dialogue about the company, Landmark, like Erhard before it, has repeatedly used litigation and threats of litigation as an improper tool to silence its vocal public critics. This type of lawsuit -- typically accusing the defendant of defamation and related torts -- is known in various American jurisdictions as a SLAPP suit: i.e., a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation; a lawsuit brought not for its merits, but for the specific purpose of silencing a vocal critic, often one who is unlikely to have the financial resources to defend himself. Given Landmark’s history of filing such lawsuits, it came as no surprise that Ross’s website would enter Landmark’s litigation cross hairs. The democratizing effect of the internet has endowed this website, practically a one-man operation, with the same publishing power and reach as Landmark, a multi-million dollar for-profit corporation. The popular search engine, Google, which ranks web sites by popularity and not financial means, lists www.rickross.com as #2 on the search term “Landmark Education,” right behind Landmark’s own website. Thus, persons seeking information about Landmark’s programs have easy access to both the information provided on Landmark’s website, as well as the contra point-of-view about Landmark often expressed here.
As was reported here nearly a year-and-a-half ago, Landmark and its related companies sued Ross on June 25, 2004, based upon allegedly disparaging statements made about Landmark on www.rickross.com, www.cultnews.com, and www.culteducation.com. In its Complaint, Landmark charged that allegedly false and disparaging comments made on Ross’s website and statements made by Ross to the media constituted, among other things, product disparagement, tortious interference, consumer fraud and unfair competition. Although much of the material complained about by Landmark consisted of visitor comments, personal stories and bulletin board messages written by users of the website, Landmark’s complaint made the baseless accusation that these statements were actually authored by Rick Ross under false pseudonyms. Cited among comments about Landmark attributed to Ross were that:
“commentaries accuse Landmark of ‘hypnotizing’ and ‘brainwashing’ participants, attempting ‘cult recruitment’ and ‘mind control’ and of constituting ‘cultish-ness.’” (Complaint ¶ 18)
“Landmark’s program make ‘a deliberate assault on your mind;’ . . . Landmark’s programs are ‘downright dangerous’ and ‘destructive,’ Landmark’s programs are designed to make participants ‘vulnerable to suggestion;’ Landmark’s programs have ‘cult attributes;’ and Landmark’s programs are a form of ‘subtle brainwashing.’” (Complaint ¶ 22)
“Defendants made false charges that Landmark participants endured days of ‘bullying’ and ‘humiliation.’” (Complaint ¶ 18 (c)).
“Participants are ‘subject to total “control . . . from the moment [they] are in that room.”’” Complaint ¶ 22 (2) and “Landmark representative exhibited a ‘reluctance to allow toilet breaks.’” (Complaint ¶ 18 (j)).
These are among the same allegations and opinions about Landmark that its critics have published for years, and for which Landmark has repeatedly sued or threatened to sue. Indeed, Landmark itself has been sued a number of times for personal injuries alleged to have arisen out of its programs.
Given the important First Amendment concerns implicated by this lawsuit, and Ross’s inability to finance his own legal defense, our firm, Lowenstein Sandler PC, agreed to defend Ross pro bono against Landmark’s lawsuit. See Defendants Answer to Landmark’s Complaint. The First Amendment implications of the lawsuit were heightened because Landmark’s suit seemed to us not only directed at suppressing Ross’s freedom of speech, but further aimed at chilling the free speech rights of the anonymous users of his website who have shared their opinions about Landmark. Cleverly, Landmark in its allegations invented the fiction that most of the allegedly disparaging comments came not from anonymous third-party website users, but instead directly from Mr. Ross under various pseudonyms. This gave Landmark the legal ploy by which it could claim it needed to discover the identities of the anonymous users and subpoena them (all under the guise of seeking to “prove” that the anonymous posters in question are not real).
On January 7, 2005, Landmark wrote a letter to the federal Magistrate Judge assigned to the case, the Hon. Mark Falk, U.S.M.J., to seek permission to file a motion to uncover the identities of the users who wrote the allegedly disparaging comments about Landmark. In response to this serious threat to the free speech and privacy rights of the anonymous users of this website, the internet civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation with the support of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, sought to participate in the case as amicus curiae, in order to argue against such intrusive discovery tactics. See Letter. Following the exchange of letters, the Court made clear that it was not likely to grant Landmark’s motion to unmask the identities of the anonymous users of this website, and Landmark subsequently backed down on pressing its motion. If Landmark had succeeded and word had spread that anyone posting a negative message about Landmark on this website might subsequently be served with a subpoena, the vigorous free speech engaged in here would have been effectively halted – and Landmark’s litigation goals would have been largely achieved.
At the same time, we refused to stipulate to a protective order that would have kept Landmark’s internal documents confidential and hidden from public view. Although Landmark took preliminary steps to have its training manuals and other documents kept confidential, (see letter) Landmark came to understand that the law has recently begun looking far less favorably on orders protecting the disclosure of evidence produced in litigation, and that if motion practice for discovery ensued, Landmark would likely be required to disclose publicly documents that it recognized would not only damage its case, but would further establish that its complaint was, from the outset, brought in bad faith.
Through our own investigation, we learned from papers filed in Landmark’s litigation against Self Magazine that Landmark’s own training manuals directly contradict the allegations made in Landmark’s complaint against Ross, and entirely support the comments on Ross’s website that Landmark claimed were disparaging. For example, in their Complaint against Ross, Landmark alleges that:
“Defendants made false charges that Landmark participants endured days of ‘bullying’ and ‘humiliation.’” Complaint ¶ 18 (c).
But Landmark’s own training manuals for its Forum Supervisors state:
“a Landmark ‘Forum Supervisor’ needs to be an s.o.b. for impeccability. you need to give up a concern for being liked. . . . Be a destroyer. . . . ” and “Don’t ever let people move or stand up or talk before you have declared the start of the break. Don’t ever let stuff like that go by. Ever, ever, ever.”
Furthermore, in Landmark’s Complaint, it attributes to Ross comments such as:
“the Landmark Forum is ‘a very stressful process that is not for everyone;’” (Complaint ¶ 41(a));
Yet, Landmark’s own warnings and disclaimers in its application for the Landmark Forum state:
. . . people will from time to time cry or experience headaches, tiredness, nausea, confusion, disappointment, feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and hopelessness. Some participants may find the Program physically, mentally, and emotionally stressful.”
See, e.g, Application Form produced in a Texas lawsuit against Landmark in 1997, Neff v. Landmark Education Corp.
Continued discovery in this case might have forced Landmark publicly to disclose the information and related documents that led Landmark to require participants in its programs to sign and acknowledge these disclaimers. Much of what we uncovered about Landmark’s internal documents directly contradicting the allegations made in its lawsuit against Ross are detailed in Defendants’ April 28, 2005 letter to the Court and Exhibits. More details on the contents of Landmark’s training manuals and other documents are described in the Brief in Support of the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment filed in Landmark’s litigation against Self Magazine.
After Landmark’s litigation objectives had been largely thwarted, and after Ross refused to agree to a face-saving settlement proposal made by Landmark that would have required Ross to post pro-Landmark materials on his website, Landmark sought Ross’s consent to a voluntary walk-away dismissal. Landmark sought such consent because soon after a lawsuit is commenced in Federal Court, unless the parties mutually agree to dismiss it, the litigation can be terminated only by order of the court, and upon such terms and conditions as the court deems proper.
As a matter of principle, and in hope of urging the Court to place conditions upon Landmark’s dismissal of its own lawsuit, Ross refused to stipulate to Landmark’s proposed walk-away dismissal. Landmark’s April 1, 2005 letter and exhibits to the Court seeking leave to file a motion to dismiss its own lawsuit are included in this archive. Also included is our April 4, 2005 letter response and exhibits, urging that an unconditional dismissal of Landmark’s complaint would be inappropriate where it has, time and time again, sued or threatened to sue numerous media outlets and individuals over the same allegations regarding Landmark’s controversial seminars. The complaints and other documents that we uncovered from Landmark’s other litigations are also included here.
Repeatedly, Landmark has brought litigation against its public critics -- quite transparently for the improper purpose of harassing and intimidating them. It is not the recovery of financial losses that Landmark seeks; rather, Landmark uses litigation to send a message to its critics that anyone attacking Landmark’s practices does so at the risk of an expensive and burdensome lawsuit. In its litigation against (i) Self Magazine, filed in 1993 (ii) the Cult Awareness Network and its director Cynthia Kisser, filed in 1994, and (iii) Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich, filed in 1996, Landmark sued for $5 to $10 Million with wide-ranging allegations (similar to those made against Ross) about false statements concerning (1) Landmark’s use of bullying and humiliation techniques; (2) Landmark’s subjecting participants to authoritarian control; (3) Landmark’s discouragement of bathroom breaks during the Forum; (4) Landmark’s verbal and emotional abuse of participants; and (5) the fact that Landmark’s programs are physically, mentally and emotionally stressful, are potentially very dangerous, and can result in mental problems.
Landmark generally ended up settling these cases without any financial recovery, but instead by extracting some relatively innocuous statement by the defendants that they do not believe or have no knowledge that Landmark is a “cult.” Even those statements never reach the merits of Landmark’s far more important allegations -- i.e., whether Landmark’s programs are, in fact, dangerous and abusive. Other conditions of settlement were sometimes imposed as well: e.g., Dr. Singer was required to delete references to Landmark in future editions of her book (although by the time of her settlement with Landmark in 1997, a paper-back version of Cults in Our Midst had already been published that contained no reference to Landmark or the Forum). Significantly, Landmark invariably declined to pursue its multi-million dollar suits to judgment in any genuine attempt to recover the inflated “damages” it claimed to have suffered.
In many of the lawsuits brought by Landmark, including the suit against Ross, Landmark bases its allegations largely upon the mere comparison of Landmark and its methods to the activities of groups referred to as “cults,” or even upon the mere mention of Landmark in a book or website where cults are also discussed. The late Dr. Margaret Singer had provided expert testimony on behalf of several plaintiffs bringing personal injury lawsuits for psychological damage caused by the programs created by Werner Erhard, including, “The Forum.” In Ney v. Landmark Education Corp., Dr. Singer testified that the plaintiff’s participation in The Forum was directly related to her mental breakdown, that the “est/Forum organization applies a number of powerful and psychologically disturbing, emotionally arousing and defense destabilizing techniques to large groups of people, in an intense, marathon-like period” and that the “est/Forum organization has been aware that what they term ‘SEU’s’ (severe emotional upsets) have occurred over the years in the course of the seminars.” While Dr. Singer included the Forum -- along with dozens of other groups that caused her concern -- in the book for which Landmark sued her (Cults in our Midst), she never actually identified Landmark or the Forum as a “cult.” Indeed, in Dr. Singer’s book, she expressly stated that “not all the groups mentioned in a category necessarily fall within the definition of a cult . . .” In an sworn statement she signed in connection with her lawsuit, Dr. Singer confirmed that she had “not characterized est or The Forum as a ‘cult’ in any of [her] writings, public, talks, or judicial testimony.” See Singer Declaration.
Dr. Singer, who was a good friend to Rick Ross before she died in 2003, reportedly told close friends that Landmark’s lawsuit had put a financial strain on her family, and that she believed she could settle her litigation without sacrificing her beliefs by simply agreeing to re-affirm that she did not believe Landmark was a “cult” -- given that she had never believed that it was, or had ever made such a statement in the first place. Notwithstanding that Dr. Singer never disavowed her belief that the Forum had triggered psychological problems, Landmark to this day misleadingly promulgates Dr. Singer’s limited statement -- that she did “not believe that Landmark or The Landmark Forum is a cult or sect, or meets the criteria of a cult or sect” (see Singer Statement) -- as if it were some sort of recantation, or even an endorsement of Landmark. See December 21, 2005 press release; 1999 Letter from Arthur Schreiber to Rick Ross.
The Cult Awareness Network, which was in bankruptcy court when it settled with Landmark, and its director Cynthia Kisser, who reportedly had little personal income to mount her own defense against Landmark, settled under circumstances similar to those involving Dr. Singer. We have good cause to believe that Ms. Kisser’s confidential settlement agreement with Landmark prevents her from speaking about Landmark at all anymore.
Landmark hardly stopped with Self, CAN and Dr. Singer. A Canadian lawsuit brought by Landmark in 2000 against a Canadian publication, NOW Magazine was similarly withdrawn after the publisher issued a partial retraction. In 1997, Landmark sued outspoken cult deprogrammer, Kevin Garvey (Garvey was also later named in the NOW Magazine case), and then simply allowed its lawsuit to lapse. Astoundingly, in papers filed with the Court in its litigation against Ross, (see Landmark’s June 10, 2005 letter), Landmark asserted (pp. 5-6) that it had no record of ever suing Garvey. In 2001, another lawsuit -- this one against the anonymous author of a widely circulated e-mail critical of Landmark’s programs -- was filed and withdrawn.
In still another action, brought in 1998 against Werner Erhard biographer, Steven Pressman, Landmark spent months attempting to compel Pressman to respond to deposition questions aimed at obtaining the confidential sources he used for research on his book, Outrageous Betrayal. Although the suit was brought under the pretext of compelling discovery for use in the then-active Cult Awareness Network litigation, Mr. Pressman concluded that the suit was brought primarily to harass him. Notably, the discovery commissioner, who entered an interim order in the matter, commented that “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.” The action against Pressman was dropped after the Cult Awareness Network litigation was settled. Both Kevin Garvey and the late Margaret Singer reported to have been similarly harassed with depositions subpoenaed by Landmark in connection with the Cult Awareness Network litigation.
In two other Landmark lawsuits -- one against the publisher of Elle Magazine in 1998, and one in Germany in 1997 against author Martin Lell -- the courts dismissed Landmark’s lawsuits as meritless. Additional details on all of the above-referenced cases and others involving Landmark are provided in Defendants’ letters to the Court, dated April 4, 2005 and exhibits, April 28, 2005 and exhibits, and May 25, 2005 and exhibits. In the May 25, 2005 letter we document how Landmark’s General Counsel misrepresented to the Court how many prior litigations Landmark has filed. Moreover, Landmark has repeatedly used the mere threat of litigation to intimidate the press into issuing retractions regarding any comparison of Landmark to a “cult,” or its methods to “brainwashing.” When the press does issue some clarification or modification of its story -- presumably to avoid litigation -- Landmark often adds that publication to its laundry list of media outlets that “agree” that Landmark is not a cult. See, e.g., 1999 Letter from Arthur Schreiber to Rick Ross.
It was the knowledge of Landmark’s history of repeatedly bringing litigation in bad faith that made Ross determined not to concede anything to Landmark in its suit against him -- nor to even agree to let Landmark simply walk away from its lawsuit. For this reason, Landmark was required to make a formal motion to voluntarily dismiss its own case, which it filed with the Court on May 4, 2005. Landmark asserted a change in the law made by a New Jersey Appellate Court as its basis for doing so, but the decision relied upon by Landmark dealt with only a small portion of Landmark’s claims -- those addressing Ross’s vicarious liability for the messages posted by his users. This was a curious basis for Landmark to decide to drop its lawsuit since Landmark alleged in its complaint that it was Ross, and not his users, who had posted most of the allegedly disparaging material. Landmark’s excuse for dropping the suit was further inconsistent with various other claims it made that related solely to Ross’s conduct (both on and off his website).
Shortly after Landmark filed its lawsuit against Ross, we requested document discovery from Landmark that was intended to demonstrate: (i) that the lawsuit against Ross perpetuated a pattern whereby Landmark repeatedly commenced frivolous litigation for the improper purpose of intimidating and silencing its most vocal public critics; and (ii) that Landmark brought its lawsuit with no basis in law or fact, since Landmark had actual knowledge that those of the statements attributed to Mr. Ross about which it complained were -- if not constitutionally protected matters of opinion -- unquestionably true. Not surprisingly, Landmark refused to produce those documents. When it became clear to Landmark that it would ultimately be required to do so, its strategy turned to disentangling itself from the increasingly unsatisfying litigation that it had brought. Prior to Landmark actually moving to dismiss its lawsuit, we brought an application to compel Landmark to produce discovery relating to its bad faith in bringing the lawsuit in the first place, notwithstanding that it had begun to signal an intention to withdraw. This issue is discussed at-length in our letters to the Court dated April 28, 2005 and exhibits, and May 25, 2005 and exhibits Landmark’s responses to our application, dated May 5, 2005 and June 10, 2005 are also available.
Although Magistrate Judge Falk ruled that Defendants were entitled to some limited discovery even in the face of Landmark motion to dismiss its complaint (see September 8, 2005 transcript), his ruling was ultimately rendered moot when the District Court Judge, the Hon. John C. Lifland, U.S.D.J. intervened. Although we had not yet had an opportunity to oppose Landmark’s motion to dismiss its suit, on December 27, 2005, Judge Lifland decided the motion, finding that there were no exceptional circumstances that would justify the imposition of attorneys fees and/or conditions on Landmark’s dismissal. Effectively, the Court refused to impose any penalty on Landmark for bringing yet another frivolous lawsuit, despite its prior history of making the same baseless allegations. Unfortunately, unlike several other jurisdictions, New Jersey does not have a strong anti-SLAPP statute, which could be used to impose real penalties on vexatious plaintiffs like Landmark -- a litigant who sues those who have the temerity to exercise their constitutionally protected rights through anti-Landmark free speech. In its order, the Court granted Landmark’s motion to dismiss its own complaint with prejudice.
While the “with prejudice” dismissal of Landmark’s complaint means that Landmark can never again bring its meritless allegations against Rick Ross, little prevents Landmark from pursuing its seemingly endless campaign to silence critics though litigation and threats of litigation. Few of Landmark’s litigation targets have the financial resources or the resolve to defend against Landmark and its attorneys vigorously. Nevertheless, in an effort to make Landmark think twice before once again initiating vexatious litigation to intimidate its detractors -- we are here making available, on this website, an electronic library of the documents generated and uncovered in defending Landmark’s lawsuit against Ross: the significant briefs and letters that were filed with the court, the important documents produced and filed by Landmark, and many of the papers from other Landmark litigations that we obtained from courthouses around the country and from former litigants and their attorneys who were kind enough to assist us in compiling this information.
To our knowledge, this is the most comprehensive compilation of Landmark’s litigation history ever assembled. Many of the most important of these documents are referred to, and linked to, above, although they are too voluminous to discuss in detail here. We hope these documents will provide future defendants and their attorneys facing Landmark in similar suits with essential background information on Landmark, and provide a road map of what documents and information exists, and should therefore be pursued in discovery. It should also provide journalists and others interested in Landmark with a vast array of information about the company and its litigation history, adding further depth to the wealth of information about Landmark that has already been available on this website -- and served the public well -- for years.