West Alabama Women's Center et al v. Miller
OPINION AND ORDER: it is ORDERED that plfs' 41 motion to shorten the timeframe for response so that plfs may obtain emergency relief is granted and dft State Health Officer is to respond to plfs' 32 motion to lift the stay and supplement the complaint by 6/15/2016, at 5:00 PM. Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 6/13/2016. (wcl, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, NORTHERN DIVISION
WEST ALABAMA WOMEN’S
CENTER and WILLIAM J.
PARKER, M.D., on behalf of )
themselves and their
THOMAS M. MILLER,
M.D., in his official
Capacity as State Health
CIVIL ACTION NO.
OPINION AND ORDER
challenging a revised version of that regulation and two
additional statutes, all regulating abortions, and to add
shorten the State Health Officer’s timeframe within which
to respond to their earlier motion, so that they may obtain
For reasons that will be explained, the
plaintiffs’ second motion will be granted and the court
plaintiffs’ earlier motion by June 15, 2016, at 5:00 p.m.
This suit was brought as an as-applied challenge to
Initially, that regulation required that abortion providers
in the State maintain staff privileges at a local hospital
The plaintiffs are West Alabama Women’s Center
The defendant is the State Health Officer, in
his official capacity, who was responsible for enforcing
This court found that the plaintiffs were likely to
succeed on the merits of their claim that the regulation,
as applied to West Alabama, imposed an unconstitutional
undue burden on women seeking abortions, because compliance
result in the closure of the clinic.
The court temporarily
enjoined its enforcement against the clinic.
Women’s Ctr. v. Williamson, No. 15cv497, 2015 WL 4932810,
at *1 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 4, 2015) (Thompson, J.) (granting the
plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order); West
Ala. Women’s Ctr. v. Williamson, 120 F. Supp. 3d 1296 (M.D.
granting the temporary restraining order).
2015, the parties entered a joint stipulation, which, among
other provisions, waived enforcement of the regulation as
to West Alabama until August 24, 2016; requested a stay of
proceedings for a period of one year; and provided that, in
the interim, the Alabama Department of Public Health would
initiate the rulemaking process in an attempt to modify the
unduly burdened the rights of women seeking abortions.
court granted the parties’ request for a stay, with the
‘emergency relief’ at any time.”
West Ala. Women’s Ctr. v.
(M.D. Ala. Aug. 31, 2015) (Thompson, J.).
promulgated an amended regulation, which became effective
June 2, 2016.
A facility may comply with the amended
first two of which mirror the earlier regulation): either
(1) an abortion provider must have staff privileges, (2)
the facility must have a covering physician, or (3) the
facility must comply with a new set of additional measures,
including a requirement that every woman who receives an
records prior to leaving the facility.
Also since the entry of the joint stipulation, the
Alabama Senate Bill 205 prohibits any abortion clinic from
Alabama Senate Bill 363 bans the dilation and evacuation
statutes go into effect August 1, 2016.
On June 2, 2016, the plaintiffs moved to have the stay
lifted and to file a supplemental complaint.
supplemental complaint renews the plaintiffs’ challenge to
the regulation (as amended).
It also challenged the two
The plaintiffs’ substantive claim regarding
all three restrictions is the same: that they unduly burden
the rights of women seeking abortions in the State.
court promptly issued a show-cause order, requiring the
State Health Officer to respond to the plaintiffs’ motion
in seven days.
In so doing, it overlooked a provision of
the August 2015 joint stipulation governing the lifting of
Paragraph 7 of the Joint Stipulation (doc. 31)
“The stay of this litigation may be
lifted at any time by order of the court.
Should a party move the court to lift the
stay in litigation, the other party will
have no less than 30 days to respond
before the court rules on the motion,
provided however that this period will be
shortened in accordance with Fed. R. Civ.
P. 65 should the plaintiffs seek to lift
the stay in order to obtain emergency
At issue here is the effect of this provision.
Health Officer argues that, pursuant to this provision of
the joint stipulation, it is entitled to a time period of
plaintiffs argue that they intend to and, indeed, must seek
emergency relief from enforcement of these restrictions;
respond more quickly.
Because the plaintiffs’ motion to lift the stay and
emergency relief, the court will grant their motion and
require a prompter response from the State Health Officer.
challenges three abortion restrictions that will begin to
affect West Alabama in the very near future: (1) an amended
regulation that goes into effect August 1, 2016, and will
be enforced against West Alabama beginning on August 24,
Alabama beginning on August 1, 2016, its effective date (SB
363); and (3) another statute that will go into effect
August 1, 2016, and will, the plaintiffs allege, close West
Alabama indefinitely as of December 31, 2016 (SB 205).1
1. Because SB 205 governs the licensing of abortion
clinics, the law will go into effect August 1, 2016, but
would allegedly force the closure of West Alabama and the
Alabama Women’s Center as of December 31, 2016, the date by
which clinic licenses are due to be renewed.
The State Health Officer argues that none of these
emergency relief, but this argument is unavailing.
setting aside the two statutes, which are not yet (unless
and until supplementation is approved) before the court, a
30-day response period would not allow the court adequate
time to consider and rule on the plaintiffs’ forthcoming
motion for emergency relief.2
As the plaintiffs note, if the court were to allow the
State Health Officer 30 days to respond to the motion, his
response would be due July 5, 2016; this would leave the
parties and the court only 35 business days to (1) rule on
supplemental complaint; (2) receive the plaintiffs’ motion
2. Whether or not leave is granted to amend in claims
regarding the two new statutes and the new plaintiffs and
defendants, it is unquestionably proper for the plaintiffs
to raise and the court to consider the renewed challenge to
the regulation that has been at issue in this case since
prepare); (4) receive the plaintiffs’ reply brief; (5) hold
oral argument; and (6) issue an opinion and order, all
prior to August 24.
This schedule would place intense and
unnecessary time constraints on both the court and the
Moreover, and without in any way prejudging the merits
injuries which--if the plaintiffs could prove that they
were likely to occur--would constitute irreparable harm,
(doc. no. 32-1)
enforced, the medical records requirement would jeopardize
3. The State Health Officer argues that the harms
plaintiffs allege this regulation will cause are not
actually going to occur, suggesting that the agency will
interpret the regulation differently that the plaintiffs do
in their amended complaint. Even if this were true and, in
the end, precluded, emergency (or any) relief, this issue
patients by making it significantly more difficult to keep
their medical history, including the decision to have an
For some of [West Alabama]’s patients,
including those who are victims of domestic violence, being
forced to receive copies of their medical records before
leaving the clinic would not only jeopardize their privacy,
but would put their wellbeing and safety at risk by making
it more likely that others--including an abusive partner or
relative--will learn of the abortion and harm the woman.”);
Pls.’ Mot. to Shorten Timeframe for Resp. (doc. no. 41) at
4 (citing cases holding that “the violation of a woman’s
appropriate mechanism for the plaintiffs to seek emergency
Given that the next step of this litigation will
cannot be considered by the court unless and until the stay
is lifted and the complaint amended.
be for the court to resolve this very issue, and because a
regulation--which is squarely before the court--the merits
be decided at this stage.
(doc. no. 41) to shorten the timeframe for response so that
defendant State Health Officer is to respond to plaintiffs’
(doc. no. 32) by June 15, 2016, at 5:00 p.m.
DONE, this the 13th day of June, 2016.
/s/ Myron H. Thompson____
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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