Special to Cal Catholic from Mary Rose Short.
On Friday, in a surprise reversal of parts of his tentative ruling issued a month ago, federal district court judge William Orrick gave the green light to Planned Parenthood to pursue tens of thousands of dollars for “personal security” for Planned Parenthood doctors caught on camera negotiating for the sale of aborted baby body parts. Orrick ruled on cross motions for summary judgment in Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit against David Daleiden, Center for Medical Progress, and five of its other investigators and board members.
Since they first brought the lawsuit in January 2016 and at the summary judgment hearing in July, Planned Parenthood attorneys argued that there had been a “spike in attacks” against the abortion giant after the first videos were released in July 2015. However, as Life Legal Defense Foundation attorney Catherine Short reminded the court on behalf of the defendants, Planned Parenthood “did not provide a shred of evidence” of any such spike in threats or crimes directed at their clinics or personnel over months of discovery. Planned Parenthood attorney Amy Bomse then fell back to a claim that the defendants had “broken the sense of security” that its personnel had in their conferences, and claimed a right to recover for any expenditures made to repair that “sense of security.”
Costs related to security upgrades constitute the majority of Planned Parenthood’s alleged damages they seek in the lawsuit and they claim the security upgrades were necessary because of the “nine-fold increase in violence against abortion providers” after the release of the Center for Medical Progress videos. Although Orrick’s tentative ruling in July indicated no other categories of damages would be allowed, in his final ruling he added that Plaintiffs could collect for “personal security” for Planned Parenthood doctors “targeted” in the videos. These security costs including costs of personal security guards, costs to relocate, and costs to improve security at their homes.
During the dozens of hours of depositions of Planned Parenthood witnesses, defense counsel pressed for details about the abortion providers’ alleged damages, especially the alleged increase in violence against Planned Parenthood staff. Multiple witnesses identified the National Abortion Federation as the definitive source for statistics on “anti-abortion violence.” The National Abortion Federation reported a nine-fold increase in violence against abortion providers after the release of the Center for Medical Progress videos, but when pressed, their expert witness could not even testify as to what time period the nine-fold increase was an increase over, let alone identify a single act of violence.
Planned Parenthood’s own internal security tracking categorizes as security incidents even incidents clearly unrelated to the undercover videos or opposition to abortion, such as a patient asking a Planned Parenthood employee on a date, an employee’s boyfriend trouble, and a patient becoming angry with an employee. Letters saying “Jesus loves you” and promising prayers were classified as “harassment.” Only three incidents of vandalism to the plaintiff Planned Parenthood affiliates were documented in the entire year following the release of the first Center for Medical Progress video: window breakage that the police said was unrelated to the videos or abortion and was committed by someone angry at an employee, a broken window at a different affiliate, and graffiti. Planned Parenthood claimed all of these as damages caused by the defendants.
In his two-page tentative ruling issued in July, Orrick acknowledged that Planned Parenthood had not shown that their alleged damages were proximately caused by the defendants and indicated that the Center for Medical Progress should not be punished for reactions to the videos: “I am inclined to exclude from the case all damages that stem from third parties’ reactions to the release of the video recordings as impermissible publication damages barred by the First Amendment absent a defamation claim.” His tentative ruling left Planned Parenthood with less than $100,000 to pursue in damages. He told the assembled attorneys at the summary judgment hearing to prepare for trial “as if the tentative is my final” on the motions for summary judgment.
In his 137-page final ruling, however, Orrick dismisses the defendants’ arguments that they are not responsible for any alleged criminal actions that followed the release of the undercover videos. He acknowledges that Planned Parenthood has presented no evidence that they were the victims of threats or violence related to the videos but invites Planned Parenthood to seek to recover their costs for security upgrades anyway.
Moreover, Orrick also reversed course and ruled that Planned Parenthood’s “expert” would be allowed to testify about “the history of anti-abortion activists targeting abortion providers and the historical consequences of that targeting.” In other words, Orrick believes that pro-lifers are such dangerous people – although he has seen no evidence presented to that effect in this case – that it was reasonable and necessary for the Planned Parenthood employees to hire personal security guards and upgrade home and workplace security systems after they learned they were recorded, even before a video featuring them was released. And he will allow Planned Parenthood’s “expert” to try to convince the jury of that, too.
Orrick declined to dismiss the RICO claim of any of the eleven Planned Parenthood plaintiffs, even those plaintiffs who weren’t claiming damages or weren’t claiming any of their staff was recorded.
On Friday, August 30, Planned Parenthood will reveal the exact dollar amount of damages it is seeking under this ruling.
Trial is set for October 2 and is expected to last at least four weeks.