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Missouri health agency appeals ruling requiring it to pay Planned Parenthood legal fees

By: - May 27, 2022 12:58 pm

The case stems from the Department of Health and Senior Services’ 2019 denial of a St. Louis Planned Parenthood a license to perform abortions (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images).

Missouri’s health department is appealing a Cole County judge’s ruling that put the state on the hook to pay at least $170,000 in Planned Parenthood’s legal fees.

The state intends to argue to the Missouri Court of Appeals in the Western District that Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem erred by awarding attorney’s fees and expenses to Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and denying the health department’s request to reopen the case and pursue additional discovery, according to the notice of appeal filed Wednesday by Deputy Solicitor General Maria Lanahan.

In April, Beetem affirmed an administrative court’s ruling that the Department of Health and Senior Services must pay Planned Parenthood for the nearly $162,000 it accrued defending itself after the state chose not to renew its license in 2019, and for the about $8,000 it incurred as a result of the litigation arising from the fees dispute.

Beetem also reversed the administrative court’s prior decision regarding the award of other expenses, and directed the commission to determine whether the costs, which total a little over $88,000, were reasonable and if so to grant them to Planned Parenthood.

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The underlying case harkens back three years ago to the state’s denial of a license to Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic, the only remaining abortion facility in Missouri. The state had launched an investigation into the facility, and it was later revealed former DHSS Director Randall Williams maintained a spreadsheet to track the menstrual cycles of women who had visited the Planned Parenthood location in an attempt to investigate failed abortions.

In May 2020, an administrative hearing commission determined the state wrongly denied the facility its license.

But during a March hearing, lawyers from the attorney general’s office representing DHSS argued it shouldn’t have to pay Planned Parenthood’s legal fees because its investigation that led to the license denial was justified. DHSS also argued it should be allowed to pursue discovery in the case to learn more about Planned Parenthood’s corporate structure, which an attorney for Planned Parenthood called a “meritless theory.”

Beetem ruled against the state on both points, and wrote in his April order that the health department, “seeks to relitigate every issue on which it lost,” and transform the fees dispute into “‘second major litigation.’”

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Tessa Weinberg
Tessa Weinberg

Tessa Weinberg covers education, health care and the legislature. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian, where her reporting into social media use by the governor prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. She most recently covered state government in Texas for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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