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Tepeyak v. Montgomery County, No. 11-1336

Decided: July 3, 2013

The Court of Appeals recently affirmed the district court’s decision to preliminarily enjoin enforcement of the second statement of a Montgomery County Resolution requiring limited service pregnancy resource centers to post signs disclosing a lack of licensed medical professionals on staff and encouraging patients to consult with licensed heath care providers.  Reviewing the decision for an abuse of discretion, the Court found that the district court in no way erred, for it applied the correct preliminary injunction standard, made no clearly erroneous findings of material fact, and demonstrated a firm grasp of the legal principles pertinent to the matter.

In early 2010, the Montgomery County Council passed a resolution requiring the postage of a sign in limited pregnancy resource centers, such as Centro Tepeyak, that read: (1) “the Center does not have a licensed medical professional on staff,” and (2) “the Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or may be pregnant to  consult with a licensed health care provider.”  The sign had to be easily readable, written in English and Spanish, and present in all center waiting rooms.  Tepeyak alleged that the Resolution discriminatorily “aimed at pro-life pregnancy resource centers” and unconstitutionally limited its speech.  Accordingly, Tepeyak sought a preliminary and permanent injunction barring enforcement of the Resolution.  The district court found the first compelled statement of the Resolution was not unconstitutional; however, the second statement was unconstitutional and was to be severed. Both parties appealed.

In finding that the trial court committed no error, the Court of Appeals first noted that the lower court appropriately employed the preliminary injunction standard recently spelled out in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7 (2008). Under the Winter standard, the movant “must establish [1] that he is likely to succeed on the merits, [2] that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, [3] that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and [4] that an injunction is in the public interest.”  The Court then analyzed the district court’s handling of each factor.  Because the Resolution required Tepeyac “to say something it might not otherwise say,” the mandate constituted a content-based regulation of speech.  Furthermore, the lower court determined that the speech was neither commercial nor professional. After applying strict scrutiny, the district court found the second prong was not narrowly tailored to promote the County’s compelling interest. As for the first compelled statement in the disclaimer, the court explained that it did not require any other specific message and “in neutral language states the truth.”  As such, it could stand.  The Fourth Circuit found that no abuse of discretion occurred and applauded the district court’s analysis.  In concluding, the Court aptly noted that “[w]here a preliminary injunction is under an interlocutory examination, determining whether the district court abused its discretion ‘is the extent of our appellate inquiry.’”

Full Opinion

-Kara S. Grevey