An appeals court panel has ruled that David Daleiden and other pro-life activists must pay a $2.4 million judgment to Planned Parenthood Federation of America for carrying out an undercover investigation and secretly filming abortion providers discussing the harvesting of babies' body parts.
At issue in the litigation was the pro-life activists’ use of fake IDs and their recording of conversations that were meant to be confidential, which a lower court concluded violated various laws, including conspiracy, breach of contracts, conspiracy, fraud, fraudulent and unlawful business practices, trespass, RICO, and various federal and state wiretapping laws.
In a unanimous decision released last Friday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit mostly upheld a lower court ruling against the pro-life activists, who also describe themselves as citizen journalists.
Circuit Judge Ronald M. Gould authored the panel opinion, rejecting the arguments of the pro-life activists that their actions were protected by the First Amendment and journalistic practices.
“Invoking journalism and the First Amendment does not shield individuals from liability for violations of laws applicable to all members of society. None of the laws Appellants violated was aimed specifically at journalists or those holding a particular viewpoint,” wrote Gould.
“The two categories of compensatory damages permitted by the district court, infiltration damages and security damages, were awarded by the jury to reimburse Planned Parenthood for losses caused by Appellants’ violations of generally applicable laws.”
Gould also argued that the panel decision “does not impose a new burden on journalists or undercover investigations using lawful means.”
“From the beginning of their scheme, Appellants engaged in illegal conduct—including forging signatures, creating and procuring fake driver’s licenses, and breaching contracts—that the jury found so objectionable as to award Planned Parenthood punitive damages,” he continued.
“In affirming Planned Parenthood’s compensatory damages from Appellants’ First Amendment challenge, we simply reaffirm the established principle that the pursuit of journalism does not give a license to break laws of general applicability.”
Gould did reverse the lower court decision finding the pro-life activists guilty of violating the Federal Wiretap Act, noting that it “requires that the criminal or tortious purpose be independent of and separate from the purpose of the recording.”
“Planned Parenthood runs afoul of this requirement by reusing the same criminal purpose—furthering the civil RICO scheme to destroy Planned Parenthood—as both the purpose of the civil RICO claim and the independent criminal or tortious purpose,” said Gould.
“Planned Parenthood’s argument is circular: according to Planned Parenthood, the civil RICO conspiracy is furthered by the recordings, and the recordings themselves further the ongoing civil RICO conspiracy. Such reasoning is not permitted by [the Act].”
By overturning the federal wiretap part of the verdict, around $100,000 of the over $2.4 million in compensatory damages will be removed.
Daleiden’s group, the Center for Medical Progress, posted a statement last week on their website denouncing the panel's opinion.
“A Ninth Circuit panel decided with this ruling today that protecting Planned Parenthood’s barbaric practices of partial-birth abortion and trafficking of aborted fetuses for government-sponsored experiments is more important than protecting the First Amendment rights of journalists and of the public,” CMP stated.
“In order to do this, the panel had to contradict its own precedents about undercover reporting on any other topic, disregard other Circuits’ en banc findings of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, and bless the increasing weaponization of the justice system against pro-life speech.”
CMP went on to vow that its citizen journalists will appeal the panel decision, adding that the “tide of history is turning against the panel’s obsolete pro-abortion exceptionalism.”
In 2015, Daleiden and CMP garnered national headlines when they released a series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials violating various laws, namely discussing the sale of aborted baby body parts, including organs, tissue and limbs.
For its part, Planned Parenthood and pro-choice activists have denied the CMP’s claims, arguing that the videos were selectively edited and unlawfully recorded. However, CMP released the full-length, unedited videos when this story broke in 2015, which were covered by The Christian Post and other news outlets.