LAURA CONNOR—On Thursday, February 23, an Orlando-area Planned Parenthood affiliate won a procedural victory in the Florida Supreme Court. The Court overturned two lower-court decisions that had temporarily blocked the Kissimmee Health Center, a Planned Parenthood affiliate, from providing abortions.
The dispute, however, arose from property restrictions that were implemented over three decades ago. In 1986, a Declaration that included various property restrictions was imposed on the tenants of the medical complex, Oak Commons. Included in the Declaration was a bar on any tenant in the medical plaza from performing outpatient surgical services or imaging services as a central part of their business. However, these restrictions also contained an exception if these services were merely “ancillary and incidental” to the office’s practice.
A Conflict Arises: A Temporary Injunction and a Lack of Changed Circumstances
In December 2013, Planned Parenthood purchased an office in the Oak Commons medical plaza. Soon after, two practitioners who worked at different offices at Oak Commons filed a lawsuit stating that the Planned Parenthood office would violate the previously established property restrictions of the complex by performing abortions and providing “Morning After” pills. The plaintiffs also asked for a temporary injunction that would prevent the Planned Parenthood clinic from performing either of these services until the case was resolved.
The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, granting their request for a temporary injunction that prevented the Planned Parenthood clinic from performing abortions. Additionally, the trial court decided that the Planned Parenthood clinic would not be able to perform any sonographic services or ultrasounds—an issue not raised by the plaintiffs.
Understandably, Planned Parenthood appealed the decision. However, the Fifth District Court of Appeals ultimately agreed with the trial court, temporarily blocking the clinic from performing abortions while also declining Planned Parenthood’s request to dissolve the temporary injunction due to Planned Parenthood’s failure to allege changed circumstances. This requirement presented a conflict between the district courts in Florida that needed to be resolved—whether a motion to dissolve or modify a temporary injunction must include evidence of changed circumstances. Planned Parenthood again appealed, asking the Florida Supreme Court to resolve the conflict on the “changed circumstance” requirement.
Divergence and Discretion: The Florida Supreme Court Decision
The Florida Supreme Court’s decision first reviewed the changed circumstances conflict presented by the Fifth District Court of Appeals. At the time of this decision, the First, Second, Third, and Fifth districts all required a threshold showing of changed circumstances. However, the Court ultimately agreed with the Fourth District’s interpretation, that requiring this “changed circumstances” showing is not necessary and was in fact incompatible with equity principles. The decision relied heavily on the Court’s view that it should have discretion in deciding on equitable remedies and not be hindered by a bright line rule.
The Supreme Court then moved on to an analysis of the trial court’s temporary injunction order itself. The court specified multiple problems with the order. The first issue was that the injunction granted relief that was not sought, specifically the ban on performing imaging services such as ultrasounds. The court also stated that the order was vague in its description of what activities the plaintiffs were seeking to end, such as not defining what exactly constitutes a “physician’s practice.” Finally, the Court stated that the order was based on erroneous findings of fact. The Court elaborated on the fact that the trial court’s temporary injunction order “completely misstated facts” and made conclusions based on facts “not appearing in the record at all.” Thus, the Fifth District erred when it affirmed the temporary injunction order.
The Florida Supreme Court ultimately remanded the case to the Fifth District and instructed it to remand the case back to the trial court in order for the trial court to conduct permanent injunction proceedings.
What’s To Come: Permanent Injunctions and a Big Move?
At the moment, it is unclear whether the clinic will be able to perform abortions at this location in the future. If a permanent injunction is granted and upheld, this means an expensive move for the Planned Parenthood clinic. An official with the clinic said that a move would cost at least $700,000 and would take over a year and a half to complete.
The major question that the trial court will have to decide is whether abortions are considered an ancillary or incidental to Planned Parenthood’s practice, thereby putting them within the exception created in the Declaration’s property restrictions. While Planned Parenthood states that abortions only make up 1% of the services it provides, those opposing the clinic point out that even the clinics own witnesses admit that abortions are central to the clinic.
Because the lawsuit and temporary injunction were issued fairly soon after the clinic opened, there was little evidence or numerical data for the trial court to examine. However, the trial court will have to examine the actuality of the Kissimmee Health Center’s individual practice to make a final decision on whether a permanent injunction should be issued.
The trial court will make the decision on a permanent injunction in the coming weeks. While the Planned Parenthood clinic has won this procedural battle, the winner of the war of property restrictions is soon to be determined.