The Planned Parenthood location on Virginia Cove in Memphis. Source: The Business Journals.

In a case we reported on last year, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction in a case involving protests outside of a Planned Parenthood location in a Memphis, Tennessee business.  The case previously turned on the fact that the street in front of the clinic was a private street.  The district court had determined that, because the street was private, it could not be a public forum in which anti-abortion protests could take place.

The Sixth Circuit’s decision, issued yesterday, turned on the fact that the private street in question was “physically indistinguishable” from adjacent public streets.  The court reasoned that, because the private street was paved and had no signage indicating that it was privately-owned, a reasonable member of the public would likely consider the street public.  Thus, the court classified the street as a traditional public forum.  The court was also swayed by the fact that there appeared to be a dedication of the street on the subdivision plat for the business park in question, and that the public had impliedly accepted the street as a public street through public use of the street.  The court went on to apply strict scrutiny (although it did not conduct any analysis as to whether the restrictions on the street’s use were content based), and reversed the district court’s order.
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An aerial view of the Virginia Run Cove development. Source: Google.

Last month, a federal district court in Tennessee denied a motion for preliminary injunction filed by a man who wished to picket a Planned Parenthood location in a business park in Memphis.  The court determined that the private street on which the plaintiff, John Brindley, intended to picket was not a public roadway and therefore was not a traditional public forum requiring content neutral speech regulations.

Planned Parenthood’s offices are located on Virginia Run Cove, a two-lane street that serves multiple businesses located within the park.  The park is zoned as a planned unit development, and the street serves the businesses located within the park.  Brindley sought to protest Planned Parenthood on Virginia Run Cove, but was asked to move by a police officer on the premise that Virginia Run Cove is a private street.  Brindley subsequently moved to a nearby public street, but was dissatisfied that his protest location was nearly 300 feet from his target audience, Planned Parenthood.  Brindley subsequently filed his complaint in federal district court.

In conducting a forum analysis to determine whether Virginia Run Cove was a public forum for First Amendment purposes, the court noted that some public fora are privately-owned.  These areas include public sidewalks that run across private property, sidewalks on private university campuses, and even the streets of corporate-owned communities.  However, the court observed, private areas are not converted into public fora where the owner of the property allows a more limited use of the property.
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Protesters near Planned Parenthood in Pittsburgh. Source: CBS Pittsburgh.

Last week, a federal district court granted summary judgment to the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a long-running dispute over a buffer zone law applicable to protest activities outside of reproductive health facilities such as Planned Parenthood.  The court held that the city’s 15-foot buffer zone law was content neutral and narrowly tailored to a substantial governmental interest, and thus valid under the First Amendment.

Pittsburgh enacted its buffer zone law in 2005.  The initial buffer zone law initially imposed a 15-foot buffer zone around the entrance to a hospital or health care facility in which no person was permitted to congregate, patrol, picket, or demonstrate.  The buffer zone excepted public safety officers, emergency workers, employees or agents of the facility, and patients.  The law also imposed an eight-foot “personal” buffer zone around individuals.  In the eight-foot buffer zone, no person could approach an individual to provide a leaflet or to protest, where the individual was within 100 feet of a hospital or health care facility entrance.  The eight-foot personal buffer zone was struck down in the case of Brown v. City of Pittsburgh in 2009.  The 15-foot buffer zone remained in effect, but was challenged again in 2014 following the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley, in which the Court struck down a Massachusetts law imposing a 35-foot buffer zone around health care clinics.  The plaintiffs in the case are religiously-motivated protesters who engage in protest activities around a Planned Parenthood facility in Pittsburgh.  In 2016, as we reported, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the case.
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A 20-foot buffer zone at a Planned Parenthood facility in Harrisburg. Source: PennLive.com.

Last week, in a case that we reported on last summer involving protests near abortion clinics in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction back to the district court, finding that the lower court misapplied the narrow tailoring analysis.

The facts of the case, which challenges Harrisburg’s protest-free buffer zone requirement around abortion clinics, can be found on our post from last fall.  The buffer zone in question is a 20-foot zone extending from the entrance to a reproductive health care clinic in which congregating, patrolling, picketing, and demonstrating are unlawful.  Following the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs appealed that ruling to the Third Circuit. 
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Earlier this month, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that a group of abortion protesters did not have standing to challenge a New Hampshire buffer zone law.  The First Circuit’s decision affirmed a decision by the federal district court, which we reported on last summer.

The law in question prohibited protesters from entering

The City of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania enacted a “buffer zone” ordinance that disallows an individual 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.”  A group of plaintiffs, protesters and sidewalk counselors near abortion clinics, challenged

Protesters outside a New Hampshire reproductive health clinic. Source: watchdog.org.

Last week, a federal district court judge in New Hampshire ruled that a group of protesters lacked standing to challenge a state law prohibiting them from entering within a 25-foot radius of the entrance to an abortion clinic. The law, which was similar to a Massachusetts law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2014, stated that “[n]o person shall knowingly enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility within a radius up to 25 feet of any portion of an entrance, exit, or driveway of a reproductive health care facility.”  The law also required clinics to “clearly demarcate” the buffer zone.
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