Dear Sangha,

Today, we filed suit against Noah Levine and three of his business entities in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. At the same time, we learned that Mr. Levine had filed suit for trademark infringement against our non-profit organization in the same jurisdiction. Our lawsuit is a public record and you can read it here. We expect both of these suits will be consolidated into one action. We know that you may have questions about this and we have scheduled two Zoom conference calls, on Wednesday at 5:00 pm Pacific, and Thursday 7:00 pm Pacific, so that the community can discuss this at length with Jean Tuller, our Executive Director, and Chris Kavanaugh, our Board Chair (you can find Zoom details at the bottom of this email).

Based on feedback we’ve received from our earlier statements about our part of this legal action, we’ve written this document to address the four most common questions we’ve encountered from the community.

1. What is this lawsuit about? Is it related to the sexual misconduct allegations?

The lawsuit filed by the board has nothing to do with the allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Levine. The topic is only briefly mentioned in our pleading to provide context. Long before we became aware of any allegations of sexual misconduct, the board of Refuge Recovery was deeply concerned about several conflicts of interest caused by Mr. Levine having copyrighted the book personally and having registered the name and logo for Refuge Recovery through his for-profit treatment center business. Under federal and state laws, a non-profit business cannot benefit (the legal term is “inure”) any one individual person or business entity, if they in any way control the nonprofit. The consequences for this could be fines and/or potential loss of non-profit status.

In addition, pushback from the community over Mr. Levine having taken on the position of the sole spokesperson and author of the text began almost immediately after the book’s publication in 2014, as this YouTube video from the first Refuge Recovery Annual Conference clearly demonstrates (https://youtu.be/c9VC6nWX7uw?t=2333). The criticism was driven by the concern that associating the Refuge Recovery movement too closely to any one individual exposes it to the risk that future damage to that person’s reputation might harm the community as a whole. A large percentage of the Refuge Recovery community has a 12-step recovery background, and this issue is one of the main justifications for their Tradition 12, which advises to always place principles before personalities. As seen on this video, Mr. Levine’s response to these concerns was to treat his role as a temporary one, even conceding that eventually his name needed to come off the book.

Shortly after the board was formed, we created the Asset Sharing Committee, which was tasked with resolving these issues contractually with Mr. Levine. At first, Mr. Levine was cooperative and he made assurances that these issues could be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. When the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, the Executive Committee of our board asked him to step down as a director to protect the non-profit as much as possible under the circumstances, and he reluctantly agreed. The work of the Asset Sharing Committee then took on a sense of urgency.

Mr. Levine then started a new business called Refuge Recovery Retreats, and at the same time he began articulating a new vision for Refuge Recovery. His idea was that he would decide who could and could not offer retreats to our community.  For those that wanted to but weren’t qualified, Mr. Levine would offer them teacher-training. In effect, this would create a Refuge Recovery lineage of teachers. This new vision of Mr. Levine’s created another enormous conflict of interest and directly contradicted a number of earlier statements he’d made to the Refuge Recovery board. In fact, Mr. Levine participated a few weeks prior in a meeting of our Teacher Committee to share his thoughts on how the non-profit should manage retreats and never once said he planned to unilaterally do the work himself for profit. We believe Mr. Levine’s action threatened the very existence of the non-profit. We explained our concern to Mr. Levine in July, and told him that if he didn’t reconsider using the Refuge Recovery name in this manner that we felt we had no choice but to take legal action to protect the non-profit. We gave him every opportunity to change his mind, but talks broke down in October.

The board is very sad that it has come to this. We very much would have preferred to resolve this dispute without litigation.

2. Who gave you the authority to make these decisions for the community? Shouldn’t you have asked our permission first?

Organizationally, Refuge Recovery is set up to be like AA and other 12-step recovery programs. AA is governed by its General Service Board. When Refuge Recovery became completely separate from Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society (ATS) in 2017, Mr. Levine asked two people to join him on the board, Jean Tuller and Chris Kavanaugh. At that time, Mr. Levine also hired Jean as the Executive Director. A few months later, the board was greatly expanded through a solicitation and application process much like AA’s, and today there are nine members. We have not added any additional board members since Mr. Levine left our board, so all nine of our current board were selected by Mr. Levine.  Mr. Levine’s lawsuit against the Refuge Recovery non-profit is his attempt to delegitimize a board, consisting of nine people he hand-picked for the job, simply because he disagrees with them.

The board is a very diverse group of professionals, which includes:

  • A major network producer in New York who was an editor for Random House,
  • A treatment center CEO,
  • An IT professional and past president of a Zen community,
  • A manufacturer’s rep for the largest cosmetics company in the world,
  • A theatrical production specialist for Blue Man Group,
  • A tech entrepreneur and MBA with experience in intellectual property law,
  • A retired CFO and Internal Auditor, who practiced law for 25 years,
  • A government planner with a law degree from UC Berkeley,
  • And Jean Tuller, our Executive Director, has a Master Degree in Public Policy, 35 years of management experience in nonprofits as well as state and federal government, and advanced business training from Harvard.

Non-profits are very different from for-profit businesses. Whereas for-profit boards usually serve the company’s shareholders, non-profit boards serve the general public. Being a director of a non-profit is a public trust. There are very strict laws about what directors of a non-profit can and cannot do (legally speaking these are “fiduciary duties”). These laws are usually enforced by either the IRS or the Attorney General’s office of the state where the non-profit operates. When an officer or director of a non-profit breaches their fiduciary duty, it can result in fines and the revocation of the charity’s non-profit status. Our lawsuit against Mr. Levine and his business entities details a lengthy history of Mr. Levine treating the non-profit like a personal business, and several acts that we believe were illegal breaches of one or more of his fiduciary duties.

As fiduciaries ourselves, once we became aware of these transgressions, it became our duty to use whatever resources we have available to remedy them. Initially, we hoped this could be done contractually, with Mr. Levine’s full cooperation. However, once Mr. Levine refused to cooperate, he put us in a position where we had no choice but to pursue judicial intervention. If we had not, this would be a breach of our fiduciary duty to protect the rights and assets of the non-profit. It not only would have been morally and ethically wrong, arguably we might have exposed ourselves to legal liability.

This is why we did not go to the community and ask permission before filing our lawsuit. We believe our duties as directors require us to proceed with this lawsuit.

3. Why not rebrand? Wouldn’t we be better off using these resources to just start over?

The problem with rebranding is that, upon investigation, we believe that under state and federal law, our non-profit organization has always been the rightful owner of the Refuge Recovery brand. Knowing that it is an asset of the non-profit, we are legally and ethically obligated to protect it.

Hundreds of individuals in our community have invested time, resources, and energy into creating value in the Refuge Recovery brand and name. In the relatively short time it has existed, the name and program of Refuge Recovery has become widely recognized, and we have a very real presence in the recovery field. It is our belief that rebranding would undo this progress; in fact, the basis of the lawsuit rests on the principle that the “brand” has value in and of itself, which is being diminished by the for-profit actions being undertaken by companies with the same name.

In addition, the legal issues that we are seeking to resolve don’t disappear with rebranding. They get more complex.

Say we decide we want to change our name to Rebrand Recovery, and we reach out to all the groups and encourage them to follow our lead. The hub of our community today is the web domain refugerecovery.org. Our communications with the community are via emails from that domain and web pages hosted at that domain. Mr. Levine’s lawsuit against us is meant to stop us from using that domain name on the grounds that we are infringing his company’s trademark.

If that went unchallenged, there would be two recovery programs: “Rebrand” Recovery, made up of all the groups that went with the rebrand, and Refuge Recovery, made of up all the groups that didn’t and all the future groups.

Consider the mission statement in our Articles of Incorporation, which reads that the purpose of our non-profit is:

“…to provide support for people suffering from all forms of addiction by facilitating an extensive and comprehensive network of Refuge Recovery groups. Support may include, but is not limited to, meetings, classes, conferences, and social networking.”

Notice it specifically says Refuge Recovery groups. In the rebrand scenario, is our legal and ethical duty limited to the community that goes with the rebrand? Or, does It extend to the future community of Refuge Recovery groups as well? Who are we obligated to serve? For all these reasons, and more, we believe that rebranding should only be considered as a very last resort.

4. Why should I care? I just want to go to a meeting with like-minded people. All this doesn’t affect me one way or the other.

The board of Refuge Recovery serves a vital purpose: quality control. The same is true for AA’s General Service Board. For example, if you go to an AA meeting in Belfast or Beijing, you expect certain things about it to be true. If a group claims they’re having an AA meeting, but the basic elements of an AA meeting aren’t present, someone will complain and the meeting will be delisted. For this to happen, the meeting needs to be listed somewhere and there needs to be a shared understanding of what the basic elements of a meeting actually are. For AA to be where they are now has required decades of outreach and education and very well thought out requirements built into their regional licensing. In addition, AA has a very careful and thorough process to develop, adopt, and distribute literature in support of its mission. In Refuge Recovery, we are just at the beginning of this process, but if our organization is not allowed to continue its work, the possibility is very real that the term Refuge Recovery could become completely meaningless, and if that happens, it might be very hard to find a meeting.

We hope that this discussion has helped to provide a better understanding of our current legal dispute with Mr. Levine. Please join our Zoom conference on Wednesday, or Thursday, or feel free to email Jean Tuller, Executive Director, at [email protected] or Chris Kavanaugh, Chair of the Board, at [email protected] with any questions or comments.

Refuge Recovery is a California Public Benefit corporation organized as tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code.

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Dear Sangha,

As part of our ongoing commitment to keep the Refuge Recovery global sangha informed to the best of our ability, we are providing this update to our November 2, 2018 Bulletin. As we reported then, the Refuge Recovery Board of Directors has been in discussions with Noah Levine for the past year about the use and ownership of the Refuge Recovery name and literature, as well as Noah’s role within the organization going forward.

Our discussions began months before the allegations against Noah surfaced. We believe we need to protect the movement from being tied too closely to Noah, or to any one individual or group. One of our goals has been to clearly delineate the separation between the non-profit organization that serves the Refuge Recovery community and Noah’s businesses. Another goal is to secure our rights to the literature.

The following is a timeline of our recent interactions with Noah regarding our efforts to secure our organization’s rights to the Refuge Recovery brand and literature.

  • The Board first retained legal counsel to represent our organization on October 26, 2018, after receiving a letter in which Noah’s legal counsel suggested the Board and Noah engage in mediation to resolve our dispute.
  • Because the Board felt that mediation could bring about a resolution more quickly than bringing a civil suit in court, on November 1, 2018, our organization’s counsel agreed to mediation in Los Angeles and requested that it  be scheduled within two to three weeks.
  • Two weeks later, Noah’s counsel replied that they would need more time to respond to our requested schedule. We gave them additional time and provided a list of mediators.
  • After no further communication from Noah’s attorney by December 19, 2018, we requested a response by December 27, 2018.
  • On December 27, 2018,  Noah’s counsel indicated that Noah would not be ready to meet for the very mediation that his counsel suggested until the third week in February 2019.

Further delay in resolving the dispute with Noah is not in the best interests of the organization or its members. Additionally, the Board is not confident that Noah shares the Board’s desire to resolve this dispute quickly. As a result, the Board has directed our organization’s counsel to prepare and file the legal complaint necessary to commence a civil suit against Noah in court.

Please understand that we take no pleasure in this dispute with Noah. However, we are obligated as fiduciaries of this nonprofit organization to vigilantly protect its rights and resources. Refuge Recovery exists to benefit the global Refuge Recovery community, not any one individual.

Refuge Recovery is a California 501(c)(3) non-profit, charitable organization. The mission of Refuge Recovery is to support those on this path of recovery by building an extensive and comprehensive network of Refuge Recovery groups, meetings, and communities that practice, educate and provide Buddhist-inspired guidance and meditations for anyone seeking recovery from addiction.

Please direct any questions or comments about this update to Jean Tuller, Executive Director, at [email protected] or Chris Kavanaugh, Board Chair, at [email protected].

As you know, the controversy around Noah Levine has put great strain on our community. We hear regularly, directly and via social media, that there is hope that the Board is taking action to support the Refuge Recovery name and the groups around the world. Simply hearing that “the Board is aware” and “the Board is working on it” have likely led to more confusion and frustration than hope. We feel a need to say more about where we are in the process.

We have been in discussions with Noah for the past year about the use and ownership of the Refuge Recovery name and literature, as well as Noah’s role within the organization going forward. These discussions began months before the allegations against Noah surfaced. We need to protect the movement from being tied too closely to Noah, or to any one individual or group. One of our goals has been to clearly delineate the separation between the non-profit organization that serves the Refuge Recovery community and Noah’s for-profit businesses. Another goal is to secure our rights to the literature. Of course, these efforts have been delayed and further complicated by the allegations against Noah and their fallout.

We are now actively working with attorneys to pursue a resolution that we hope will allow our community to thrive. Despite our desire to be transparent, we are following the advice of our legal counsel and cannot share the details of this process at this time. We intend to provide more frequent updates as we move forward, and we continue to be honored to be able to support this profoundly important movement.

Submission Request

The Refuge Recovery Literature Committee is requesting submissions. We are looking for personal stories from the community to help inspire, encourage, support, and guide newcomers in completing their own inventories. Tell us how you did it, who you did it with, what worked for you (and didn’t), and any other reflections you may have. In particular, if you adapted or edited the inventory questions or created your own, we would love to see those if you are willing to share.

Deadline:  November 9, 2018
Submission format:   Email [email protected], and if you wish to include any attachments, we ask that you please save them in .doc or .txt format.

Please let us know if you would like your submission to be anonymous, or how you would want to be identified if it is okay to use your name.

To be clear in the event of questions or concerns, this is an opportunity to grow our literature, not to replace the book Refuge Recovery. The Committee is starting with the topic of inventories and they are looking forward to receiving your submissions. The Regional Representatives and the Board of Directors will get first look after the Committee vets and edits the submissions, to ensure that we have a collaborative process to develop material that will benefit our entire sangha. 

Dear Refuge Recovery Community,

Last week, Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society (ATS) sent out an email to its mailing list reporting on their investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct made against Noah Levine. ATS concluded it was likely that Noah had violated the ethical code for Buddhist teachers against causing harm with sexual conduct. At the same time, ATS announced that, for financial reasons, it was ending operations.

ATS did not release their investigator’s report to us or to the public. Noah responded with a public statement directed to both the communities of Refuge Recovery and ATS. A link to both statements can be found below.

Refuge Recovery is a California Public Benefit corporation organized as tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code. It exists to support the worldwide community of Refuge Recovery groups through training and education, sharing resources, and fostering collaborative projects. While it has been a source of much confusion, Refuge Recovery is not affiliated with the Venice, California based Refuge Recovery House, LLC, doing business as Refuge Recovery Centers or any other enterprise that may use a similar name.

Though Refuge Recovery began as a special project of ATS, it has operated independently for over a year. While we are deeply saddened to know that ATS will soon be closing, this decision does not affect our organization financially or threaten our viability. Our growth has been unabated. As of today, we have 618 registered weekly meetings, with 18 meetings alone added in the last seven days.

Last March, the board was informed that a police report had been filed alleging that Noah had committed sexual assault, and that ATS was launching an investigation. Our board’s Executive Committee asked Noah to step down from the board and he agreed. We lacked the resources to conduct our own investigation, so our board decided to take no further action at that time. Subsequently, the board’s Executive Committee made the additional request that Noah not participate in our annual convention in June and again he agreed.

None of the complaints were brought directly to the Refuge Recovery Board of Directors and, to the best of our knowledge, none of the allegations were raised by a member of the community. We know, however, that many people in our community have felt deeply affected by the allegations, the investigations and ATS’ findings. We cannot and will not ignore or minimize the impact they have had on our community.

The board believes it is vitally important to encourage the expression and processing of many diverse perspectives and experiences within our communities. We hope you as individuals and as communities will listen directly to the perspectives and the requests of those who have felt harmed or for whom these events have triggered emotional trauma.

Refuge Recovery is a peer-led recovery community. Our principal concern is the well-being of those seeking freedom from the suffering of addiction. We believe that part of our practice is to meet this painful experience as it is with compassion and to continue on in nobility. We further believe that this can, in the long run, be a catalyst for growth in our community. We hope all of us will see this as an opportunity for self-reflection and examination of ways the groups can become safer and more welcoming for all our members.

From the outset, our board has been tasked with managing Refuge Recovery’s transition from being entirely driven by one person to being peer-led such that all major decisions can occur democratically at the group level. Being peer-led means we do not rely on the teachings or reputation of any one person for our strength. Ultimately, we anticipate that much of our board’s role will be shifted to the regional and local levels, leaving our board to focus exclusively on supporting the groups, producing literature and working to ensure that our name is not misused.

Part of this process involves obtaining licenses or transfers from Noah of certain intellectual property rights involving the book Refuge Recovery, the trademarked name, and the three-jewels logo. We were already working on this in March, but the allegations around Noah created a sense of urgency. The issues are very complex. Over the past few months, our board has consulted with no fewer than four intellectual property attorneys. This is the topic of our next board meeting scheduled for September 9, 2018. Noah will be participating. We see tremendous value in the name recognition that has been built since 2014, and we think that, as long as Noah continues to negotiate with us in good faith, securing rights and protections best serves the interests of our community.

As we move forward, we will continue to keep the community apprised of our activities and do what we can to help this community come together and heal. Toward this end, Jean Tuller, our Executive Director, and Chris Kavanaugh, our Interim Board Chair, hosted two community video conferences last week and we plan to do more of these in the coming months. In addition, our board minutes are available for your review on our website and you can email Jean or Chris directly with any comments or concerns you have. Finally, Refuge Recovery is organized around regions, each of which has elected representatives whose role is to make sure the voices of our local communities are heard, considered, and acted upon.  The list of regional representatives is available on our website. We believe that only by keeping the lines of communication open with the community at large can we be of maximum service.

This has been a hard few months. Thankfully, the Dharma and this program teach us how to navigate difficult times and the value of perseverance.  We’ve done our best to adhere to these core principles. We will continue our important work, you will continue to inspire us with your selfless service to our thriving community and together we will continue to build a place of Refuge for all.

 

The Board of Directors of Refuge Recovery

Brent Borreson, Knoxville, Tennessee

Benjamin Flint, Brooklyn, New York

Daniel Fishburn, Asheville, North Carolina

Erin Jensen, Calgary, Alberta

Christopher Kavanaugh, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Dave Larsen, Broomfield, Colorado

Edward Welsh, Portland, Oregon

Rosy Ngo, Brooklyn, New York

Jean E. Tuller, Portland, Oregon

John Tydlaska, Portland, Oregon

Donald Westervelt, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

 

Link to statements:

https://refugerecovery.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/ATS-Statement-08252018-1.pdf

https://refugerecovery.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Levine-Statement-08312018.pdf

Hi Sangha,

In response to the decision by Against the Stream regarding Noah Levine, Christopher Kavanaugh, Interim Chair of the Refuge Recovery Board of Directors, and I will be hosting two Zoom video conferences this week. These are to support our sangha and respond to questions as best we can.

May all beings be at ease,

Jean Tuller, Executive Director

 

Details are as follows:

1) Time: Aug 28, 2018 5:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

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2) Time: Aug 30, 2018 7:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

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