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Media Alerts - Colleen Reilly, et al. v. City of Harrisburg, et al. - Third Circuit
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July 7, 2017
  Colleen Reilly, et al. v. City of Harrisburg, et al. - Third Circuit
Headlines: Third Circuit Holds that while Considering a Request for Equitable Relief, the Movant Must Meet the Threshold for the Two Most Critical Factors, Not All Four Factors.

Third Circuit Holds that in a First Amendment Case, the Government Bears the Burden of Proof on the Ultimate Question of a Statute's Constitutionality.

Area of Law: Constitutional Law, Equitable Relief

Issue(s) Presented: In deciding a request for equitable relief, should a court require all four factors to be met for the request to be appropriate, or only the first two most critical factors?

In a First Amendment case, does the burden of proof shift to the Government to prove ultimate questions of a statute's constitutionality, or must the plaintiff prove its likelihood to succeed on the merits?

Brief Summary: Plaintiffs brought a constitutional challenge to a Harrisburg city ordinance they allege impermissibly restricts their right to protest near abortion clinics. Plaintiffs also sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin the ordinance's enforcement. The District Court denied their request for an injunction because it claimed Plaintiffs did not meet their burden of demonstrating that they were likely to succeed on the merits. Plaintiffs requested that the Third Circuit review the merits of their case and the denial of the injunction. Because Plaintiffs' claims were still before the District Court, the Third Circuit stated that the District Court should evaluate the constitutional claims. Regarding the request for injunctive relief, the Third Circuit held that the District Court misallocated the burden of demonstrating narrow tailoring. It also clarified the analysis for granting a preliminary injunction. The Third Circuit ultimately vacated the decision and remanded for further consideration.

Extended Summary: Plaintiffs Colleen Reilly and Becky Biter brought a constitutional challenge to a Harrisburg city ordinance they allege impermissibly restricts their right to protest in the vicinity of abortion clinics. Plaintiffs also sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin the ordinance's enforcement. The District Court denied their request for an injunction because it claimed Plaintiffs did not meet their burden of demonstrating that they were likely to succeed on the merits. Plaintiffs requested that the Third Circuit review the merits of their case and the denial of the injunction.

The ordinance prohibited persons to knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending twenty (20) feet from a health care facility. The ordinance's purpose was to promote the health and welfare of the city's residents and visitors to the health care facilities, as well as the health and welfare of those who wished to voice their constitutionally protected speech outside of the facilities. The ordinance applied to all persons equally, except for police, employees and other exempted persons, regardless of the intent of their conduct or content of their speech. Plaintiffs claim to provide sidewalk counseling to those entering abortion clinics by use of leaflets, prayer and conversation, in attempts to dissuade patients from getting abortions. Plaintiffs allege that the ordinance creates unconstitutional buffer zones that render their ability to engage effectively in counseling impossible. They allege that the ordinance violates their First Amendment rights to speak freely, exercise their religion, and assemble. They also allege the ordinance violates their Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights. In additional to challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance, Plaintiffs requested a preliminary injunction to enjoin the enforcement of the ordinance. The District Court ruled that Plaintiffs did not meet their burden of demonstrating that they were likely to succeed on the merits and denied their request for relief.

Regarding the request for injunctive relief, the Third Circuit held that the District Court did not provide a full analysis of whether to grant the request, and misallocated the burden of demonstrating narrow tailoring. It therefore vacated the decision and remanded for further consideration. The Third Circuit ultimately held that a movant for preliminary equitable relief must meet the threshold for the first two most critical factors. First, it must demonstrate that it can win on the merits. Second, it must demonstrate that it is more likely than not to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief. Once these gateway factors are met, the court can then consider the remaining two factors and determine, in its sound discretion, if all four factors taken together balance in favor of granting the requested preliminary relief.

The Third Circuit also reasoned that while plaintiffs normally bear the burden of demonstrating a sufficient likelihood of prevailing on the merits, in First Amendment cases, the Government bears the burden of proof on the ultimate questions of a statute's constitutionality. Plaintiffs must be deemed likely to prevail unless the Government has shown that Plaintiffs' proposed alternatives are less effective than the statute. The burdens at the preliminary injunction stage track the burdens at trial, which rest with the Government for First Amendment purposes. Therefore, the Third Circuit vacated and remanded the decision for further proceedings.

The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/163722p.pdf

Panel: Ambro, Jordan, and Roth, Circuit Judges

Argued: March 21, 2017

Date of Issued Opinion: May 25, 2017

Docket Number: No. 16-3722

Decided: Vacated and remanded.

Case Alert Author: Rachel N. Costello

Counsel: Mary E. McAlister, Esq., Mathew D. Staver, Esq., & Horatio G. Mihet, Esq., Counsel for Appellants; Joshua M. Autry, Esq. & Frank J. Lavery, Jr., Esq. Counsel for Appellees.

Author of Opinion: Ambro, Circuit Judge.

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 07/07/2017 12:33 PM     3rd Circuit  

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