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Judge rules Planned Parenthood can open clinic in Auburn Hills (Oakland Press)

Published January 11, 2012 by the Oakland Press.

By Ann Zaniewski.

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Published: 01.11.12| Updated: 01.11.12

A judge ruled Tuesday that a restrictive covenant on a property in Auburn Hills does not bar Planned Parenthood from operating a clinic there.

Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan officials were pleased with the decision and plan to move forward with opening the clinic. Opponents worry that the organization will conduct abortions at the site and said they would challenge the ruling.

“When someone wants to open a place of death, we’re going to fight it,” said Monica Migliorino Miller, director of South Lyon-based Citizens for a Pro-Life Society.

Planned Parenthood officials said they have not yet decided exactly which services will be provided at the clinic.

At one time, the Planned Parenthood property at 1625 N. Opdyke Road and an adjacent property on which a Comfort Suites Hotel sits were owned by the same entity, which agreed, through a restrictive covenant, to limit the use of the property in question to “restaurant, retail or office.”

Planned Parenthood contends that a clinic would not violate the covenant. But the hotel owners believe that it would, with their attorney, James Carey, saying that the “office” use does not allow medical offices that conduct outpatient surgeries.

In May 2011, Planned Parenthood sued the owners of the hotel property, Shri Sai-Krishna Group, L.L.C. The lawsuit accused them of trying to interfere with its lawful use of the property and of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A hearing was held Tuesday before Oakland Circuit Judge James Alexander on Planned Parenthood’s request for partial summary disposition. About a dozen people who oppose abortion and the clinic were in attendance.

Carey began his argument with: “An abortion clinic is not an office.”

Alexander said the case is not about abortion.

“All these people are sitting out here because they think it’s an abortion case. This is an issue of property rights, counsel,” Alexander said. “It’s all it is.”

Attorney Alan Greene, who represents Planned Parenthood, said a medical office is a subset of the broader category of “office,” even if they’re regulated differently.

In his ruling, Alexander said that to exclude “medical offices” would amount to extending the scope of the restrictive covenant. He said the hotel owners failed to establish that Planned Parenthood would violate the covenant.  

“In this case, plaintiff has the legal right to use the property as a medical office,” the judge said. “It is not for this court to make moral judgments about the efficacy of that use. So long as it is allowed legally, this court is bound to uphold the confines of the restriction.”

Lori Lamerand, CEO of Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan, said she was very pleased with the judge’s decision.

“We’re full speed ahead to try and make sure that Oakland County residents get the health care they need,” she said.

Lamerand said it has not been decided which specific services will be offered at the clinic, other than family planning services and health screenings such as breast exams and pap smears. Not all of its services are provided at every location.

Planned Parenthood has 17 facilities in Michigan, Lamerand said, and abortion services are offered at four of them.

Carey said he is examining Alexander’s ruling and will decide soon whether to appeal.

He said he agreed that a property dispute, and not abortion, is the core issue.

“Our arguments would be the same if this was a plastic surgery clinic or an urgent care clinic,” he said.

Opponents to the clinic said they were disappointed with Alexander’s ruling.

“Do not be discouraged,” Migliorino Miller told the group gathered in a hallway outside the courtroom.

“He’s the just judge,” one woman replied, pointing toward the sky, “and He will have the last word.”

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