News

The irony was lost on no one late yesterday when a Texas grand jury — initially impaneled to investigate Planned Parenthood — handed down indictments instead of two individuals responsible for undercover videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials illegally trafficking in fetal tissue.

Here’s more from Ross Ramsey at the Texas Tribune:

Some people thought — hoped might be a better word — that Houston-based Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast would be charged with illegally trafficking organs and tissue of aborted fetuses. That followed sensational coverage of videos that purported to catch those officials talking in detail about those kinds of transactions.

The secretly recorded footage was collected by anti-abortion activists who presented themselves as potential buyers. They released their videos last year, reaping a whirlwind of news coverage and political attention for their sensational charges and their covert methods. Planned Parenthood was set reeling. Jubilant politicians and activists called on police and prosecutors to investigate and, if possible, to file charges.

That was the setup, and a phalanx of law enforcers got to work, including the Texas Rangers, Houston police and the Harris County district attorney’s office. A grand jury worked for more than two months, according to the DA’s office, and came up with no criminal charges against Planned Parenthood. Instead, they found the crime was in back of the cameras and not in front, charging David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt with tampering with a government record — a second-degree felony. Daleiden faces an additional Class A misdemeanor indictment for prohibition of the purchase and sale of human organs.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said District Attorney Devon Anderson, a Republican. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

Other states, including Florida, Indiana, Missouri and Washington, had likewise opened similar investigations that ultimately cleared Planned Parenthood.

The organization, for its part, filed a federal civil racketeering lawsuit in mid-January against Daleiden, Merritt, their organization, the Center for Medical Progress, and others, contending that they launched an anti-abortion smear campaign with edited videos and false accusations about fetal tissue donation practices. That lawsuit is pending in San Francisco.

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News

What happens when a company in a class action lawsuit offers the named plaintiff complete relief before a class is certified? If the plaintiff’s claim is mooted by such an offer – regardless of whether the offer is accepted — can the class action proceed?

In a 6-3 ruling today by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the high court held in Campbell-Ewald Company v. Gomez that companies could not pick off plaintiffs in an effort to defeat the class.

In the case, the company – sued for sending unsolicited text messages to nearly 100,000 people – attempted to eliminate the named plaintiff, Jose Gomez, by offering him full settlement before the court certified the class and allowed it move forward with the lawsuit. Gomez refused the offer, but the company claimed that with their offer he had no injury to complain about and the case was thus mooted.

Trying to get the first-named plaintiffs in a class action to settle early has long been a defense tactic. For that reason, attorneys bringing such a case often try to name several individuals as plaintiffs, but even that doesn’t ensure that the case can proceed in the face of settlement offers.

Advocates of class actions say such cases provide necessary avenues of relief for large numbers of consumers for whom individual lawsuits would be cost prohibitive. Allowing the defendant companies to pick off plaintiffs and short cut these cases would severely limit their viability as a tool for consumer relief.

The court’s decision, in which Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito dissented, is here.

News

May_Day_Immigration_March_LA37The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to review President Obama’s overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, putting to rest a challenge to its constitutionality launched more than a year ago by 26 states.

As described by Adam Liptak of the New York Times, the president’s plan would “allow millions of immigrants who are the parents of citizens or of lawful permanent residents to apply for a program sparing them from deportation and providing them work permits. The program was called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.”

In February, a federal district court judge in Texas  blocked implementation of the plan pending resolution of the states’ challenge, and a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans later affirmed that injunction.

Adds Liptak:

If the Supreme Court upholds Mr. Obama’s actions, the White House has vowed to move quickly to set up the DAPA program and begin enrolling immigrants before his successor takes over early next year. Democratic presidential candidates have said they will continue the program, but most of the Republicans in the race have vowed to dismantle it and redouble immigration enforcement.

The high court’s order taking the case for review, entered in U.S. v. Texas, is here.

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News

Planned Parenthood and its California affiliates filed suit today for damages — including treble damages under civil racketeering laws — against organizations and individuals they contend launched an antiabortion smear campaign with edited videos and false accusations about fetal tissue donation practices.

The 65-page complaint, filed in federal court in San Francisco, opens with this:

This complaint details a complex criminal enterprise conceived and executed by anti-abortion extremists. The express aim of the enterprise — which stretched over years and involved fake companies, fake identifications, and large-scale illegal taping — was to demonize Planned Parenthood, harass and intimidate its dedicated staff, and interrupt its operations, all with the ultimate goal of interfering with w omen’s access to legal abortion.

Named as defendants are the Center for Medical Progress,  Biomax Procurement Services LLC, David Daleiden (aka Robert Sarkis), Troy Newman, Albin Rhomberg, Phillip S. Cronin, Sandra Susan Merritt (aka Susan Tennebaum) and Gerardo Adrian Lopez.

(Source: Planned Parenthood)

(Source: Planned Parenthood)

The organization alleges that the named individuals created a fake company, Biomax, which held itself out as a legitimate fetal tissue procurement company, created fake identifications and stole one woman’s identity to gain access into Planned Parenthood conferences and facilities and then used hidden cameras to tape hundreds of hours of conversations with staff.

They then created YouTube videos purporting to show organization officials violating federal law relating to tissue donation. Forensic analysis confirms that “the videos were heavily manipulated, with critical content deliberately deleted and disconnected portions sewn together to create a misleading impression,” the group alleges in the complaint.

The videos had the intended effect, the group continues — leading millions of people to believe that Planned Parenthood had engaged in in illegal behavior, subjecting staff to harassment and attacks, and spurring state and federal investigations.

Read the complaint here.

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News

A law designed to discourage workplace whistleblower activity in North Carolina, signed into law last session over a veto by Gov. Pat McCrory, has landed in federal court in Greensboro with the filing today of a lawsuit by a collection of groups alleging violations of freedom of speech and freedom of the press protections set forth in the U.S. and state constitutions.

The “ag-gag” law, so dubbed because as originally drafted it sought to protect the agriculture industry, holds individuals who gain access to nonpublic areas of a workplace for unrelated work purposes, and take property, record images or obtain information, liable to the employer.

The groups challenging the law include the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Center for Food Safety, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, Food and Water Watch, and the Government Accountability Project.

Together they’ve sued both Attorney General Roy Cooper and University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt to block enforcement of the law.

With respect to Folt, PETA contends that it has conducted undercover investigations at UNC-Chapel Hill animal laboratories and would continue to do so as part of an ongoing investigation into abuse there, but for the liability now imposed under the new law.

Read the complaint here.