The country’s largest abortion provider sued undercover journalists after the 2015 release of a series of investigative videos that exposed Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in fetal parts.
On Friday, a jury awarded Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and multiple Planned Parenthood affiliates, damages set to exceed $2.3 million in their civil case against undercover journalists David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt and several of their associates. The country’s largest cohort of abortion providers sued Daleiden and his colleagues after the 2015 release of a series of investigative videos that exposed Planned Parenthood’s trafficking in fetal parts.
The jury found the defendants liable on an array of state law theories, including trespass, breach of contract and of non-disclosure agreements, and fraud, as well as state and federal laws prohibiting the unconsented recordings of third parties. The California-based jury also found that Daleiden and the other defendants had violated the federal Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law—a federal statute that triples any damage award. The defendants were also hit with punitive damages exceeding $800,000.
Daleiden’s lead attorney, Peter Breen, of the public policy legal firm Thomas More Society, promised an appeal. “We intend to seek vindication for David on appeal,” Breen said in a press release. “This lawsuit is payback for David Daleiden exposing Planned Parenthood’s dirty business of buying and selling fetal parts and organs,” Breen added, noting, “We intend to seek vindication for David on appeal. His investigation into criminal activity by America’s largest abortion provider utilized standard investigative journalism techniques, those applied regularly by news outlets across the country.”
Breen has several solid grounds for appeal, and initially will likely challenge presiding judge William Orrick III’s refusal to recuse from the case. While appellate courts are hesitant to second-guess a trial court’s decision on whether recusal is required, in this case the facts strongly suggest recusal was required.
Specifically, Judge Orrick was a founder and a longtime officer and director of the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center, an organization which, according to Daleiden, houses and participates in a joint venture with one of the named Planned Parenthood affiliates. Further, during the pendency of this case, as Breen pointed out in briefing, Orrick was “held out to the public as serving as an Emeritus Board Member of [the Good Samaritan Family Resource Center].”
Judge Orrick’s refusal to allow Daleiden and the other defendants to testify concerning their reasonable beliefs about abuses in the fetal tissue business, from harvesting of organs from born-alive babies to selling tissue and body parts for profit, as well as the judge’s decision barring the admission of the video evidence, will also be areas ripe for reversal.
However, the most significant legal aspect of this case concerns the First Amendment—and it is that issue which will likely result in this case eventually reaching the Supreme Court. That prospect promises not just vindication for Daleiden but assures further exposure to the reality of the violence of abortion.
Breen confirmed he will challenge the verdict on “First Amendment grounds, noting that the compensatory damages stem from the publication of the videos.” “We believe the compensatory damages should go to zero on appeal.” Breen said.