La. Supreme Court rules abortion clinic fines proper

The state health agency did have the power to fine a New Orleans outpatient abortion clinic in 2010, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled Friday in a decision reversing an appeals court in Baton Rouge.

The state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in December threw out $1,200 in civil fines that the Department of Health and Hospitals levied against Midtown Medical LLC, saying DHH didn’t have the legal authority to impose the penalties.

The appellate court determined outpatient abortion providers aren’t listed in state statutes as facilities that DHH can sanction.

The state Supreme Court disagreed Friday, reinstating state District Judge Wilson Fields’ 2012 decision to side with DHH.

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling. DHH is committed to ensuring the health and safety of women and their unborn children in Louisiana,” DHH spokeswoman Olivia Watkins said in an email.

The Supreme Court said language in the applicable state statute “covers facilities which function only as outpatient abortion facilities … and those which operate as both outpatient abortion facilities and adult day health care facilities.”

“Because the Legislature defined ‘facility’ in this enabling statute, the absence of ‘outpatient abortion facility’ in the definition promulgated by DHH ... is of no consequence,” the high court wrote.

Ellie Schilling, the New Orleans lawyer representing Midtown Medical, said in an email that she was out of town and had not reviewed the court’s opinion.

DHH assessed two separate $600 fines against the clinic based on the department’s determination that the facility was out of compliance with “federal and/or state rules for abortion clinics.”

A DHH letter stated the facility had “deficient practices” in violation of the Louisiana Administrative Code related to its governance and anesthesia services. The letter alleged the facility’s action or inaction in those areas “created a potential for harm by directly threatening the health, safety, rights or welfare” of its patients.

Midtown officials denied the allegations and argued DHH had overstepped its authority. Midtown has been fighting to reinstate its license since DHH closed the clinic about 18 months ago.