LAKE FOREST, Ill. — A county circuit court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the nation’s largest medical waste provider in an effort stop a pro-life group from distributing information about the company’s disposal of aborted babies for Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities nationwide.
All three of Stericycle’s charges against the Ohio-based group Created Equal—defamation, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress—were dismissed on Sept. 29.
“Irrespective of which side is taken on the abortion question, a reasonable person looking at Defendant’s publications understands that Defendants are expressing their point of view that abortion is a killing, in which Plaintiffs are alleged to play a part,” the order, issued by Lake County Associate Judge Margaret Marcouiller, reads in part.
“Plaintiff Alutto alleges the actions of Defendants have caused intense embarrassment and distress during his interactions with neighbors, church members and other acquaintances,” it outlines. “No other allegations of distress are mentioned in the amended complaint. Therefore, Plaintiff’s amended complaint fails to sufficiently allege that Plaintiff Alutto suffered severe emotional distress.”
As previously reported, as part of its “Project Weak Link,” the Ohio-based group Created Equal had distributed leaflets in March as part of an awareness campaign surrounding the medical waste company Stericycle and its service to Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities. Created Equal distributed the information in Lake Forest, Illinois, where the corporate headquarters of Stericycle is located, as well as in the neighborhood of its president, Charles Alutto.
On March 31, Stericycle sought an injunction against Created Equal and its leader Mark Harrington, stating that the distribution of the information would hurt the company’s right to privacy and that Stericycle would “lose business, customer relationships, and customer goodwill” over the effort. It also asked that Created Equal be ordered to pay damages to the company for canvassing area homes with its awareness cards, and said that Alutto was being portrayed in a “false light.”
Attorneys for Created Equal argued that Harrington’s speech is protected under the First Amendment, and that Stericycle had not provided any information or evidence to the court that the company or President Alutto had been portrayed falsely.
In April, Marcouiller rejected Stericycle’s request for an injunction, stating of Created Equal’s project, “This is not a substantial invasion or usurping of the enjoyment of real property. This would be an impermissible prior restraint on an issue of public debate. Even insulting and outrageous speech must be tolerated.”
However, she allowed Stericycle to amend its complaint if desired, which it did. The company asserted that, under Alluto’s leadership, the abortion facilities it services are not permitted to include babies in the collected waste.
“Plaintiffs contend that under Plantiff Alutto’s leadership, Stericycle strictly enforces its policy against accepting fetuses for medical waste,” Marcouiller outlined. “This is demonstrated by contract terms, the waste acceptance protocol, and the discontinuance of business relationships with Stericycle customers, including but not limited to Planned Parenthood locations, when those customers will not abide by the contract terms and waste acceptance protocol.”
While Marcouiller did not rule on whether or not the medical waste giant indeed disposes of fetal remains for abortion facilities, she did dismiss Stericycle’s defamation charge, stating that “[w]hether a statement is one of opinion or fact is a matter of law.” She also dismissed the false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress charges—but advised that Stericycle may re-file the latter charge if it wishes.
Mark Harrington of Created Equal applauded the decision and called upon Stericycle to stop doing business with the abortion industry.
“If Stericycle is really concerned about the effects of our awareness campaign on their public image, then they will cease enabling Planned Parenthood by transporting, and disposing aborted babies and the instruments used to kill them. If they continue to partner with the abortion industry, the campaign to expose them will continue,” he said.
“This latest dismissal of Stericycle’s lawsuit constitutes another signal victory for free speech on the part of ordinary citizens,” added Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, which represented Created Equal in Court. “The court recognized that no business is immune from public criticism of practices that citizens deem profoundly objectionable on moral or legal grounds. 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 previously reported, Stericycle has found itself in hot water on several instances in recent years after it was found to be improperly disposing of fetal remains in landfills.
In December, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office outlined that it had discovered that Stericycle, which serves the Bedford Heights Planned Parenthood, had been picking up aborted babies from the location and either having them steamed or incinerated, depending on how Planned Parenthood had marked the boxes. The discovery prompted DeWine to move to stop Planned Parenthood from having babies dumped in landfills, but a court denied DeWine’s request.
Planned Parenthood told the Associated Press that it believes its contract with Stericycle allowed for the disposal of fetal remains. Stericycle said that it was unaware of the contents of the containers.
Stericycle is also facing possible fines in South Carolina for likewise disposing of aborted babies in a landfill, and the company was fined $42,000 in Texas in 2011 for dumping fetal remains from Whole Woman’s Health in Austin with household and commercial trash.
“It was explained that medical waste is placed in red biohazard bags, then placed into boxes provided by Stericycle. Each fetus resulting from an abortion is placed into a hard plastic container and then into a red biohazard bag. The bag is then placed into a freezer, where it is stored,” an investigative report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) outlined.
“When Stericycle arrives to transport the medical waste, the individual fetuses are removed from the freezer and placed into another large red biohazard bag. The red biohazard bag containing the fetuses is placed into the medical waste box along with other medical waste generated at the facility that requires treatment,” it continued. “According to facility representatives and the medical waste manifest reviewed, it appears that Stericycle picks up the waste once per week.”
TCEQ additionally spoke with Joel Barr of Stericycle’s Austin plant, and was informed that “medical waste containing fetuses or tissue should be sent for incineration.”
“The facility representatives informed me that boxes of waste containing fetuses and/or tissue should be sent for incineration at the Stericycle incinerator in Apopka, Florida,” TCEQ investigator Chris Wiatrek wrote.
The Campaign to Stop Stericycle, which has been working to expose Stericycle’s collection, transportation and incineration of aborted babies, also notes that grand jury documents surrounding the criminal case of convicted Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell outline that Gosnell used Stericycle to dispose of aborted babies as well.
“James Johnson, who worked for Gosnell since 2001, testified that his duties included collecting the red biohazard bags of fetal remains and putting them in boxes for pickup by an outside firm, Stericycle,” the Grand Jury Presentment explained.
The Campaign to Stop Stericycle had conducted an investigation into the company’s practices and was told that it services Planned Parenthood locations nationwide, and that it does not inquire about the contents of the boxes collected at abortion facilities. However, it provides the facilities with “incinerate only” stickers for “pathological waste” containers—those containing body parts and fluids.