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9th Circuit Stops SLAPP Shot at Planned Parenthood

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

The Center for Medical Progress released a video from inside Planned Parenthood that brought on a social maelstrom.

The video, which showed the abortion providers talking about selling fetal tissue, shocked legislators, the media and others. But privacy rights lawyers and a coalition of Planned Parenthood groups fought back.

In Planned Parenthood Federation of America v. Center for Medical Progress, the plaintiffs say the anti-abortion activists wrongfully captured the videos by posing as investigative journalists. Over objections by the defendants, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said the case will go forward.


The defendants tried to kill the lawsuit early by filing a motion to strike based on California's anti-SLAPP statute (in case you don't know, SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).

A trial judge denied the motion, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The appeals panel said the trial court properly declined to evaluate the factual sufficiency of the complaint at that stage.

The case requires more discovery under federal rules, Judge Ronald Gould wrote for the unanimous court. Without allowing for discovery, he said, the motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute would become a motion for summary judgment.

"That result would effectively allow the state anti-SLAPP rules to usurp the federal rules," he wrote. "We could not properly allow such a result."

Real Impact?

Amy Brose, representing the plaintiffs, praised the decision and said the defendants "lied and broke the law in order to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood."

Jeffrey Trissell, who represents the defendants, said the Ninth Circuit decision won't have a real impact on his clients.

"From a pro-life and religious liberty perspective, I don't believe this published opinion is of much note," he said. "From a SLAPP perspective, I think many attorneys who specialize in SLAPP law will find it a very important opinion."

It was the second case involving the Center for Medical Progress to reach the Ninth Circuit in recent months. In August, the appeals court remanded a separate case over the group's demand for identities of people who have purchased fetal tissue.

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