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Lawrence v. Treybig

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

June 20, 2019

Arthur J. Lawrence, Jr., Appellant
v.
Cody Treybig, Appellee

          FROM THE 353RD DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY NO. D-1-GN-16-001856, THE HONORABLE KARIN CRUMP, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Chief Justice Rose, Justices Triana and Kelly

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JEFF ROSE, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Pro se appellant Arthur J. Lawrence, Jr. appeals from the trial court's final judgment, entered following a jury trial, that awarded nominal damages of $4.00 to appellee Cody Treybig[1] and imposed a permanent injunction barring Lawrence from coming within 1, 000 feet of Cody or contacting him or any member of his family.[2] Lawrence complains that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the case under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, see U.S. Const. amend. I; Tex. Const. art. I, § 6, and that the jury erroneously evaluated the evidence. We will affirm the trial court's judgment.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL SUMMARY[3]

         In 2005, when Cody was nine years old, his parents hired Lawrence as a private basketball coach. Lawrence continued in that role for six years, until Cody was fifteen, and they formed a relationship that eventually rose to a level of discomfort and concern to Cody's parents, ultimately leading to the underlying suit.[4]

         Cody testified that over the years Lawrence was employed by the Treybigs, he told Cody that Jimmy Treybig, Cody's father, was a high-level member of an evil society called the Illuminati; that Cody's school, his hometown of Austin, and colleges in general were full of evil Illuminati members; that the rapture was imminent; that Cody's parents intended to have an RFID[5] chip implanted into Cody's body, which would damn him to hell; that the RFID chip would control Cody's mind and would contain cyanide that could be used to kill him if he resisted; and that Cody's parents and brother hated him and were evil. Lawrence also showed Cody videos of be headings, saying that something similar would happen if Cody did not "save [his] soul" first. Cody said that Lawrence made Cody feel isolated from his friends by telling him "over and over" that they were evil and influenced by the devil. Asked about whether he came to believe his father was part of the Illuminati, Cody said, "I was absolutely convinced. It was the truth for me, and at the time, it was factual that Mr. Lawrence told it to me. He knew God. God had told him, and that it was absolutely the case."

         In 2009, when Cody was about twelve, he went to his parents in tears, telling them that that he was frightened because Lawrence had said that Cody would go to hell for playing a particular video game. Cody's parents both confronted Lawrence and told him not to discuss religious matters with their son, and they testified that Lawrence apologized and agreed to refrain from such discussions. Cody testified that despite those assurances, Lawrence continued to talk about his religious beliefs, telling Cody to keep the discussions secret from his parents and to lie about the content of their conversations. Cody said that Lawrence "had a way of using his words to make me feel like he had done so much [for] me and I owed him so much." The discussions took place during coaching sessions, in phone calls, and in text messages, and Cody said Lawrence had a way of luring him into asking about Lawrence's views on religion.[6]Cody explained that he and Lawrence developed a code to conceal that they were continuing to have conversations about Lawrence's religious beliefs.

         Cody testified that Lawrence "was always trying to convince me that he needed my parents to pay him more." He also said that Lawrence tried to plant ideas of financial misdeeds, at one point telling Cody to get $1, 000 from cash that Lawrence believed Cody's father kept in the house and "loan" it to Lawrence. Cody followed Lawrence's instructions but was unable to find any money. In 2012, Lawrence told Cody that he would soon be fired by Cody's father; that Mr. Treybig would pay Lawrence $250, 000 in the process to make him leave Cody alone; that Lawrence would keep most of the money in reserve for Cody's needs after the rapture; and that Cody would have to make a false report of child abuse to get away from his parents so that he could go live with Lawrence and Lawrence's followers.

         Drew Treybig, Cody's mother, testified that after she told Lawrence to refrain from discussing his views on religion, Cody and Lawrence continued to ask if they could talk about religion, but that "[t]he answer was no. Every single time, and Cody would get upset with me, . . . but it was no." In September 2011, Cody's older brother told Mrs. Treybig that Cody and Lawrence were still having those discussions, but Cody and Lawrence denied it when she asked. In early 2012, a friend showed Cody's mother "some very distressing" Skype text transcripts she had found between the friend's child and Lawrence. Cody's mother said that when she read them, "I was panic-stricken. Sheer panic took over me." She raced home and looked at Cody's computer, "and the Skype transcripts were just right there, and, um, I just started to read, and it-it was abject terror." Cody's father also testified about reading the text conversations between Cody and Lawrence:

Well, when I read the Skype, I realized three things: One thing, Mr. Lawrence was evil. That all this time that I had been paying him; working with him, he had been teaching that I was the devil. And that's just the start and you've heard the rest of it. The second thing was he talked about going away with Cody. And he-and I don't remember, yeah, he [was] going away with Cody, taking him away. And the third thing, um, was, um, he implied that people paid him to leave Cody alone or leave the child alone.

         Transcripts of Skype texts between Lawrence and Cody, dated between January 14 and February 3, 2012, were introduced into evidence and confirm much of Cody's testimony.[7] In the transcripts, Cody said that his parents were angry and then asked Lawrence if he should give them his phone. Lawrence replied, "Delete everything and give it to them." About two weeks later, Lawrence texted, "FYI, Its here! . . . . R F I D." He further wrote that the chip "is inserted into the hand, preferably the right hand or forehead," and asked if that sounded familiar, and Cody replied, "yes sounds very familiar. In a nice book I read," explaining at trial that they were referring to the Bible. Lawrence told Cody to stay away from people who have the chip, and when Cody asked "what do they do to ur body," Lawrence said, "you lose mind control." Lawrence told Cody, "Its imperative that you know what this chip does," because his brother and parents will "accept it" and will "eventually obligate you to take it or either they will be disown you!" For that reason, Lawrence wrote, it was necessary for Cody to "become INDEPENDENT ASAP!" When Cody said he would "rather die than get" the chip, Lawrence urged him to test himself by not eating for two days, acknowledging that it would anger Cody's parents and cause him to miss school and his activities.

         Lawrence went on to ask where Cody would live and what he would live on if he ran away instead of accepting the chip. Cody said he had "20000 in my bank," and Lawrence replied that Cody's account was restricted to withdrawals by his parents. Lawrence said that he had "been working on [a plan] ever since [Cody's mother] said she doesn't want you reading the bible." He explained that the Treybigs would fire him because of "RELIGION RELIGION RELIGION" and would "pay me off with a large lump sum of money, like $250, 000 or more to have me come up with some excuse to leave." Lawrence told Cody that he would "put it into a safe and wait for you to come and get it." Cody responded, "so your plan is..to accept it..and when I have to leave I can use it to sustain myself as long as Im independent?" Lawrence said, "EXACTLY! CPS![[8] You can easily claim abuse! . . . ONE PHONE CALL! 911." Cody asked what he could tell CPS, and Lawrence replied, "Fear of pain, yelling, humiliation, etc. Which is not a lie because they would be forcing you into h_ _ _. CPS ALWAYS takes the side of the child." He also said, "Tell CPS nothing about the chip, stress potential harm to your body and yelling," adding that if Cody's "acting sucks," he would be handed back to his parents.

         In the course of their texting, Cody said, "I think that I hate school. Its not important. Its just keeping me from learning about what really important. everyone at my school are just sheep waiting to be slaughtered. I think that I will die before I get this." Lawrence asked Cody if he "want[ed] more," and then told Cody there was a computer in Belgium that would be used to detain people who "don't accept the new world order which is the chip." Lawrence said that Cody's parents were part of the new world order and were "influenced by the other side" and that the Illuminati "will kill you if you don't do as your told." He also scolded Cody for not studying the Bible enough and said God had sent Lawrence to Cody because Cody had been "chosen."

         The Treybigs fired Lawrence the day they found the transcripts, telling him to cease all contact with Cody. Despite the Treybigs' request, Lawrence continued to have contact with Cody for some time, sending Cody text messages through friends and speaking on the phone when Cody called. He also sent Cody's father two letters in April and May 2012, criticizing the Treybigs' parenting and asserting that Cody had turned to Lawrence because their parental advice "came up void."

         In the first letter, which is eleven pages long, Lawrence took issue with Cody's parents signing him up for a certain basketball team "behind my back" and without "consult[ing]" Lawrence. Lawrence also discussed the family's money at length, saying that the issue "needs to be addressed" because the Treybigs had said contradictory things about their financial resources, which "confuses Cody because it sounds as if you and Drew are trying to make Cody ...


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