Reilly v. City of Harrisburg

Decision Date23 August 2018
Docket NumberCiv. No. 1:16-CV-0510
Citation336 F.Supp.3d 451
Parties Colleen REILLY, Becky Biter, and Rosalie Gross, Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF HARRISBURG, Harrisburg City Council, and Eric Papenfuse, in his official capacity as Mayor of Harrisburg, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania

Horatio G. Mihet, Roger K. Gannam, Liberty Counsel, Orlando, FL, Rick J. Hecker, Clymer, Musser & Conrad, P.C., Lancaster, PA, for Plaintiffs.

Elizabeth Kramer, Frank J. Lavery, Jr., Joshua M. Autry, Jessica S. Hosenpud, Lavery Faherty, Harrisburg, PA, for Defendants.


SYLVIA H. RAMBO, United States District Judge

This First Amendment case comes before the court on remand from the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for reconsideration of Colleen Reilly and Becky Biter’s ("Plaintiffs")1 motion for a preliminary injunction. In its opinion, Reilly v. City of Harrisburg , 858 F.3d 173, 175 (3d Cir. 2017), as amended (June 26, 2017) (" Reilly II "), the Third Circuit clarified the proper standard for determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to preliminary injunctive relief. Plaintiffs seek to enjoin the enforcement of an ordinance enacted by the City of Harrisburg (the "City") requiring demonstrators to remain a certain distance from the entrances, exits, and driveways of health care facilities. After reconsideration of Plaintiff’s motion under the clarified standard articulated in Reilly II , this court will deny Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction for the reasons stated herein.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

As set forth in this court’s prior opinion in Reilly I , the relevant factual background is as follows:

Plaintiffs are individual citizens of Pennsylvania who regularly provide what they euphemistically refer to as "sidewalk counseling" outside of two health care facilities in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that perform, among other procedures, abortions. Plaintiffs engage in leafletting, prayer, and individual conversations with women who are attempting to enter the health care facilities in an effort to dissuade them from obtaining abortions.
On November 13, 2012, Defendant Harrisburg City Council adopted Ordinance No. 12–2012 entitled "Interference With Access To Health Care Facilities (the "Ordinance")," which became effective on November 23, 2012. [See ] Harrisburg, Pa. Mun. Code § 3-371 (2015), The Ordinance’s stated purpose is "to promote the health and welfare of [Harrisburg] residents and visitors to [Harrisburg]’s health care facilities, as well as the health and welfare of those who may wish to voice their constitutionally protected speech outside of such health care facilities." Harrisburg, Pa. Mun. Code, § 3-371.2C. The Ordinance makes it illegal for individuals, other than police or emergency personnel performing official functions, or employees of health care facilities that are assisting patients to enter or exit the facilities, to "knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 20 feet from any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway of a health care facility." Id. at § 3-371.4A.

Reilly I at 624-25 (footnote and citations to the record omitted).

Plaintiffs filed their complaint on March 24, 2016, alleging, inter alia , that the "buffer zones" created by the Ordinance made it impossible for them to counsel patients and distribute pamphlets in opposition to abortion at certain health care facilities within the City limits. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 40-41, 50, 56.) Plaintiffs argue that the Ordinance violates their First Amendment rights to free speech, exercise of religion, and assembly, as well as their Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process. On March 25, 2016, Plaintiffs filed the instant motion seeking to preliminarily enjoin enforcement of the Ordinance due to the irreparable harm it causes to their First Amendment rights. (See Doc. 3.) Defendants filed a brief in opposition to Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and soon thereafter filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Docs. 15, 16.) After briefing on both motions, this court issued an order denying Defendants' motion to dismiss with respect to Plaintiffs' claims under the First Amendment, granting it with respect to all other claims, and denying Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. (Doc. 45.) Plaintiffs subsequently appealed this court’s order to the Third Circuit, which reversed this court’s order to the extent that it denied Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, and remanded the matter to this court for further consideration.

On remand, this court held an evidentiary hearing on Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction on October 31, 2017, and November 1, 2017. Prior to the hearing, Defendants submitted documentary evidence including declarations from City officials, Planned Parenthood employees, and Plaintiffs, including Rosalie Gross, maps of the areas around the clinic, evidence of the City’s financial hardship, video taken around the Planned Parenthood clinic, audio from the committee hearing at which the Ordinance was discussed, and drafts and supporting documentation regarding the Ordinance. Defendants submitted exhibits that included a declaration from Harrisburg police officers, the text of City ordinances, a draft version of the Ordinance, and memoranda and correspondence between City officials and Planned Parenthood employees. At the hearing, Defendants called Councilman Brad Koplinski ("Koplinski"), City Solicitor Neil Grover ("Grover"), City Engineer Wayne Martin ("Martin"), Officer Chad Sunday ("Sunday"), a City Financial Coordinator, Gerald Cross ("Cross"), and Planned Parenthood employees Andrew Guth ("Guth"), Lindsey Mauldin ("Mauldin"), and Sari Stevens ("Stevens"). Plaintiffs testified on their own behalf at the hearing, but did not present additional witnesses. The record is now closed, and the parties have submitted supplemental briefs in support of and in opposition to Plaintiffs' motion. Accordingly, the matter is now ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

The First Amendment right to freedom of speech is fundamental, yet not without limit. Our Supreme Court has repeatedly held that such limits exist. See, e.g. , Brandenburg v. Ohio , 395 U.S. 444, 89 S.Ct. 1827, 23 L.Ed.2d 430 (1969) (acknowledging distinction between protected speech and "incitement to imminent lawless action"); Miller v. California , 413 U.S. 15, 93 S.Ct. 2607, 37 L.Ed.2d 419 (1973) (distinguishing "obscenity" from protected speech); Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. , 418 U.S. 323, 94 S.Ct. 2997, 41 L.Ed.2d 789 (1974) (explaining that maliciously false and defamatory speech is not entitled to protection); Virginia v. Black , 538 U.S. 343, 123 S.Ct. 1536, 155 L.Ed.2d 535 (2003) (plurality opinion) (holding that even cross burning can qualify as protected speech if it is not done with an "intent to intimidate"). Perhaps most poignantly illustrated in Virginia v. Black , the content of even vile and hateful speech is entitled to protection; however, the First Amendment does not require the government to allow such speech to be delivered in a violent and assaultive manner. This complex question, simply put, is whether an ordinance passed by a local government entirely restrains a particular message or merely places reasonable limitations on how that message may be delivered. Upon thorough examination, this court finds that the Ordinance constitutes the latter.

Plaintiffs move for a preliminary injunction of the enforcement of the Ordinance, arguing that the Ordinance abrogates their First Amendment right to free speech in public fora because it is a content-based restriction that prohibits only anti-abortion speech and that it is not narrowly tailored to serve a legitimate governmental interest. Defendants had previously moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6); however, this court previously denied Defendants' motion, and Defendants did not appeal that holding. Accordingly, we now resolve Plaintiffs motion for a preliminary injunction under the standard articulated by the Third Circuit in Reilly II .

The four factors that a court must consider in determining whether a petitioner is entitled to a preliminary injunction remain unchanged:

(1) a reasonable probability of eventual success in the litigation, and (2) that it will be irreparably injured ... if relief is not granted.... [In addition,] the district court, in considering whether to grant a preliminary injunction, should take into account, when they are relevant, (3) the possibility of harm to other interested persons from the grant or denial of the injunction, and (4) the public interest.

Reilly II at 176 (quoting Del. River Port Auth. v. Transam. Trailer Transport, Inc. , 501 F.2d 917, 919–20 (3d Cir. 1974) ). The Third Circuit, however, did clarify the allocation of the burdens borne by the respective parties:

[A] movant for preliminary equitable relief must meet the threshold for the first two "most critical" factors: it must demonstrate that it can win on the merits (which requires a showing significantly better than negligible but not necessarily more likely than not) and that it is more likely than not to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief. If these gateway factors are met, a court then considers the remaining two factors and determines in its sound discretion if all four factors, taken together, balance in favor of granting the requested preliminary relief.
In deciding whether to issue a preliminary injunction, plaintiffs normally have the burden of demonstrating a sufficient likelihood of prevailing on the merits. However, in First Amendment cases where "the government bears the burden of proof on the ultimate question of a statute’s constitutionality, plaintiffs must be deemed likely to prevail for the purpose of

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