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Elgin to appeal pregnancy van lawsuit

Updated: September 23, 2013 2:24PM

ELGIN — The city of Elgin has decided to appeal the court ruling involving The Life Center Inc., operating as TLC Pregnancy Services, and how it has been setting up its mobile unit at two locations near Larkin High School.

“Given the nature of the ruling, the consequences to the community and the impact of the decision on the city’s ability to administer its zoning ordinance, the city has no choice but to appeal the court’s order,” stated a press release issued by Elgin Corporation Counsel William Cogley late Wednesday morning.

U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan ruled earlier this month that Elgin is permanently enjoined from enforcing the temporary-use provision of its zoning regulations, a move that allows The Life Center to continue to offer its mobile pregnancy services as it has been doing at two locations in town.

A federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of TLC by the law firm Mauck & Baker in early March claiming that the zoning restrictions put in place by Elgin last summer restricted women from getting TLC’s services. On March 13, federal Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan opined that TLC was likely to succeed on the merits of its case.

In late March, Der-Yeghiayan extended until Aug. 21 a restraining order he issued March 13 allowing TLC Pregnancy Services to set up in the parking lots at Evangelical Covenant Church of Elgin and JB’s Pub & Bar, both on Elgin’s west side close to Larkin High School.

TLC, which has a bricks-and-mortar location on Elgin’s east side, has been offering free services to pregnant women in the marked mobile vehicle at those two site middays two days a week.

The city council amended its zoning regulations in June 2012 in a way that classified the mobile facility and a number of other mobile operations as a “temporary land use” and limited such to only four uses per year at any one location, by permit.

Denies targeting

“The judge appears to have relied upon a number of misrepresentations by TLC’s attorneys in this matter as to the underlying facts,” the city’s release states.

According to the release, “no member of the city council or city staff targeted the mobile facility or attempted to shut down their services.”

In August 2012, Councilwoman Anna Moeller spotted the mobile unit on the west side of town. She claimed she could not tell by its markings that it belonged to TLC but was concerned that it was offering free medical services. So Moeller called on Police Chief Jeff Swoboda to investigate. Doing so, Swoboda found out that the group’s temporary-use permit had expired and needed to be renewed, Moeller said.

In May, Moeller noted that when the council passed its ordinance changing the code, council members didn’t anticipate how that might impact offerings such at TLC’s.

The release also contends, “The amendments to the city’s temporary use regulations adopted in 2012 were not specifically directed at TLC or intended to harm or hinder TLC’s mission or services to women in the community. The zoning regulations apply to TLC in the same way they do for all other land uses in the city. Finally, the city’s zoning regulations do not prohibit TLC from operating its mobile ultrasound facility in the city.”

TLC responds

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, TLC attorney John W. Mauck said that “we are confident that at the end of the day, the welfare and rights of young women to be fully informed and have access to free pregnancy services will prevail over municipal zoning interests. Unfortunately, Elgin taxpayers are going to be paying for the city’s ongoing opposition to the rights of a charitable service that is otherwise welcomed in the community.”

TLC Board chairman John Juergensmeyer added, “In September and October of last year, TLC wrote the city to implore it to accommodate our charitable services to young women. Had Elgin showed it cared for our services, this whole matter could have been avoided at no cost. We regret that Elgin has rejected our multiple attempts to resolve any city concerns and forced us to file this case. While they say they want to resolve our dispute, today’s appeal points in the other direction.”

With the injunction still in place while the case goes up on appeal, the TLC spokesmen said, the mobile pregnancy services will continue to operate at the usual locations at the Evangelical Covenant Church of Elgin along Larkin Avenue on Fridays and at JB’s Pub & Bar on McLean Boulevard on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. The group also “may expand its mobile pregnancy services to other locations,” they said.

Blood and books

Critics of the new rules note they also could have adverse impact on other traveling attractions such as bookmobiles, mobile blood banks and veteran organization vehicles, too strictly limiting their services to the community.

“TLC is apparently dissatisfied with the zoning regulations regarding the number of days a temporary use can be conducted on a particular property in a calendar year. Although the city continues to believe that the city’s ordinances are fair, impartial and lawful, the city has been and continues to be willing to consider alternatives to further accommodate TLC’s use of its mobile ultrasound vehicle,” the city’s press release states.

The city statement adds, “It is the city’s desire to resolve this lawsuit in a manner that accommodates TLC’s mission, maintains the city’s ability to regulate temporary uses in a fair and consistent manner, and minimizes the expense of this lawsuit to Elgin taxpayers. The city remains open to a variety of alternatives to further accommodate TLC.”

The release also claims the TLC case is the third lawsuit the city has been involved in against the law firm currently representing TLC.

“In each of these lawsuits, including the current TLC case, this law firm and its clients have sought attorneys’ fees from the city. The city was successful in the prior lawsuits involving this law firm and did not pay any attorneys’ fees to the law firm. The city maintains that its ordinances are lawful and that the city will also prevail in this lawsuit.

“The payment of attorneys’ fees to TLC’s attorneys in this case will only encourage future lawsuits against the city. The city does not believe that payment of legal fees to TLC’s attorneys is in the best interest of the taxpayers of Elgin,” the city’s announcement states.

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