Florida Supreme Court Overturns Clinic Abortion Ban

(CN) – The Florida Supreme Court ruled an Orlando-area judge was wrong in issuing an order banning abortions at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Kissimmee, Fla., and that a Daytona Beach appeals court should never have upheld the ruling.

The case at the center of the controversy involved a Kissimmee medical plaza, Oak Commons, that had property restrictions going back decades that barred those with offices there from conducting outpatient surgery or imaging services as a core part of their business.

After Planned Parenthood opened a clinic in Oak Commons in April 2014, MMB Properties, a general partnership operating a cardiology practice there, sued, alleging that abortions should be considered both outpatient surgery and a central part of Planned Parenthood’s business.

If they are, the general partnership said, Planned Parenthood is violating the longstanding restrictive covenants on the property. It asked that the court enjoin Planned Parenthood from performing abortions and providing other services at the office, including giving women the morning-after pill to terminate their pregnancies.

In July 2014, Judge John Jordan, of Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, ruled in MMB Properties favor. Planned Parenthood appealed, winning a temporary victory in the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.

That prompted an appeal by MMB Properties to the full appeals court, which reversed its earlier ruling and decided the case in favor of the cardiology office.

However, the appeals court held that Planned Parenthood could continue to perform abortions while the legal dispute between the parties continued.

Planned Parenthood then appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which it asked to rule on the validity of the property restrictions on which Judge Jordan’s injunction rested.

On Thursday, a divided Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-2 for Planned Parenthood, holding that Jordan’s injunction was “not based on competent, substantial evidence.”

“Indeed, the trial court’s temporary injunction order at times completely misstated facts adduced during the temporary injunction hearing and, at other times, based factual and legal conclusions on facts not appearing in the record at all,” said Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the majority.

The ruling also quashed the Fifth District’s decision saying it erred in its conclusion that Planned Parenthood “needed to establish changed circumstances” in order to prevail on its motion to modify or dissolve the temporary injunction.

MMB Properties’ attorney, Derek Angell, of O’Connor and O’Connor in Winter Park, Fla., told Courthouse News that while his client is disappointed in the reversal of the temporary injunction, he looks forward to a full trial on the merits for a permanent injunction, as the ruling left ample room for the litigation to continue.

“Our client is pleased with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Oak Commons restrictive covenants,” he explained. “As we have maintained all along, the covenants prohibit outpatient surgeries such as abortions unless they are ‘ancillary and incidental’ to a physician’s practice of medicine.  Abortions are anything but ancillary or incidental to Planned Parenthood.”

Donald Christopher of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz represented Planned Parenthood and did not return Courthouse News’ call for comment.

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