Judge denies requests on both sides of buffer zone lawsuit

Ruling allows contentious ordinance to take effect

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – In a court order issued on the eve of Labor Day weekend, Judge Rebecca Jennings denied both Louisville Metro Government’s motion to dismiss a pro-life lawsuit over the buffer zone outside EMW Women’s Surgical Center and the plaintiff’s call for injunctive relief and a temporary restraining order against the city.

Sisters for Life, a pro-life sidewalk counseling ministry, first filed the lawsuit on June 8. The group claimed that the buffer zone ordinance, passed by Metro City Council in May, infringed upon their constitutional rights of free speech and free exercise of religion. Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, Louisville Metro Government, Mayor Greg Fischer and Chief of Police Erika Shields were named as defendants.

Both sides reached an agreement on July 15 to postpone enforcement of the ordinance while the case was pending in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.

Jennings denied the plaintiff’s call for a temporary restraining order because the agreement between parties to delay enforcement rendered the request moot. She also found that “the Plaintiffs have not carried their burden of justifying injunctive relief,” according to the memorandum opinion and order filed on September 3.

“Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the merits or the pendency of irreparable injury to them absent injunctive relief,” Jennings added.

“The judge concluded that the factual record was not sufficient, at present, to decide the case,” said Chris Wiest, attorney for the plaintiffs. “We will, as instructed, supplement the record in the next couple weeks, with additional factual proof of the harm the buffer zone causes to our clients and their ministry.”

Jennings denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss because of “remaining fact issues” in the case, which included the plaintiff providing “arguments tailored to the actual effect of the Ordinance” and the defendants demonstrating that “less-restrictive alternatives were tried and failed, or that the alternatives were closely examined and ruled out for good reason.”

“Summary judgment is not proper at this stage of the litigation,” Jennings concluded.

With the denial of motions from both sides of the lawsuit, the buffer zone outside EMW Women’s Surgical Center can now be enforced by the city.

A spokesman for the Jefferson County Attorney's Office declined to comment.

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