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Ohio Pro-Life Advocacy Group Wins Dismissal of Fortune 500 Company's Libel, False Light Suit
Thomas More Society Wins Another Dismissal of Lawsuit by Planned Parenthood's Waste Disposal Company
 
Contact: Tom Ciesielka, 312-422-1333, tc@tcpr.net
 
WAUKEGAN, Ill., Sept. 29, 2016 /Christian Newswire/ -- Today, Thomas More Society attorneys delivered another win for an Ohio-based pro-life advocacy group, Created Equal, and its National Director, Mark Harrington, when Judge Margaret A. Marcouiller of the 19th Judicial Circuit Court in Waukegan, Lake County, Illinois, dismissed the lawsuit brought by Stericycle, Inc., a reputed Fortune 500 multinational waste hauling company, and its CEO, Charles Alutto, for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. While Judge Marcouiller dismissed the emotional distress count of Stericycle's complaint without prejudice, giving the company another chance to plead factual details sufficient to make out an emotional distress claim, the defamation and false light claims were dismissed with prejudice.

Created Equal and Harrington as well as unnamed "John Doe" defendants 1-100, were sued for having launched an aggressive publicity or "awareness" campaign against Stericycle, which they targeted as the alleged "weak link" enabling abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, to "dispose of the babies they kill," by handling waste disposal for Planned Parenthood clinics around the U.S. Stericycle and its CEO were criticized for failing to cease their business relationships with Planned Parenthood after Ohio Attorney General issued a report in December, 2015, identifying an Ohio Planned Parenthood provider whose medical waste was handled by Stericycle as the source of fetal remains found in a local landfill. Planned Parenthood's claim that it adopted a strict policy against disposing of waste from companies that failed to certify that they were not disposing of fetal remains was rejected by the defendants as inadequate.

The "David vs. Goliath" courtroom match-up teamed the small advocacy group and the Chicago-based pro-bono attorneys of the Thomas More Society against the corporate behemoth, Stericycle, and its legal team, headed by Chicago's former chief U. S. Attorney, Scott Lassar, who headed up a team of litigators from Sidley Austin LLP.

"This latest dismissal of Stericycle's lawsuit constitutes another signal victory for free speech on the part of ordinary citizens," stated Tom Brejcha, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Society. "The court recognized that no business is immune from public criticism of practices that citizens deem profoundly objectionable on moral or legal grounds," he explained. "Those companies like Stericycle that partner with the abortion industry are not exempt from critiques even when – as in this case – the critiques have been scathing and vigorous." As the Supreme Court has held, our country cherishes a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues must be uninhibited, robust, and wide open even when it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks (N.Y. Times v. Sullivan, 1964).

Defendant Mark Harrington, based in Columbus, OH, said he felt vindicated by the decision. He added, "Pro-life free speech and the rule of law prevailed today. Corporate bullies like Stericycle are not immune from exposure for their involvement in abortion-killing. If Stericycle is really concerned about the impact of our publicity campaign on its public image, then it will cease enabling Planned Parenthood to transport and dispose of aborted babies' remains together with the instruments used to kill them. If Stericycle and its CEO and other officials continue to partner with the abortion industry, the campaign to expose and shame them will continue."

Created Equal's campaign included aggressive tactics, such as graphic handbills distributed throughout Lake Forest, IL, where Stericycle's headquarters is located and Alutto and many of its officials reside, depicting not only Alutto's but also directors' photos, juxtaposed with gruesome images of aborted babies' remains, and the slogans, "Killers among us" and "Stericycle enables killing children." In addition, post cards were sent to Stericycle officials' (and others') homes, and citizens were urged to contact Alutto and demand cessation of the company's business ties with Planned Parenthood. Finally, mobile billboards depicting Stericycle officials' images, including Alutto's photo, name, home address, and office phone number, side by side with graphic images of mutilated fetuses and the hash tag, "#killersamongus," were driven about Lake Forest, Bannockburn, and Lincolnshire earlier this year, when over 500 emails were sent to Alutto's business email address while over 300 voicemail messages were left on his business phone line, urging the boycott of Planned Parenthood.

Judge Marcouiller cited and extensively discussed the ruling of the Illinois Appellate Court in Van Duyn v. Smith, 173 Ill.App.3d 523 (3d Dist. 1988), leave to appeal denied, 124 Ill.2d 562 (1989), cert. denied, 492 U.S. 906 (1989), holding that precedent dispositive of both the defamation and false light claims, as Created Equal's statements – equally as the defendants' "Wanted posters" in Van Duyn, merely cited opinions, not assertions of fact, especially when read in the context of the nation's abortion debate. Opinions are not defamatory nor can they depict anybody in a false light. Thus both of those claims were dismissed with prejudice.

On the other hand, the plaintiffs' allegations of intentional infliction of emotion distress were deemed conclusory, and thus the court held it would grant plaintiff another chance to plead facts sufficient to make out a sufficient plea that defendants' conduct was "extreme and outrageous," going "beyond all possible bounds of decency." The court added that the facts pled so far fell short of that standard.

Read Judge Marcouiller's decision in favor of Harrington and Created Equal here.

About the Thomas More Society
The Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Headquartered in Chicago, the society fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. Visit
thomasmoresociety.org.