In 2017, Jim Havens began sidewalk counseling near the Planned Parenthood facility in Rochester, New York and formed the organization ROC Love Will End Abortion (“ROC”). Between 2017 and 2018, security guards at the Rochester Planned Parenthood told Jim he was required to observe a 15-foot buffer zone on the public sidewalk outside the facility. This buffer zone was created in 2005 by the “Arcara Injunction,” a court order only pertaining to a completely separate and unrelated group of pro-life advocates.
Jim rightly believed this injunction did not apply to him or ROC. So, too, did Rochester Police— initially—but soon reversed and verbally informed Jim and ROC that they must comply with the buffer zone while sidewalk counseling. Thomas More Society came to Jim’s defense and communicated to the City of Rochester that the “Arcara Injunction” buffer zone did not apply to Jim and ROC—and the City of Rochester agreed.
But soon after, the New York State Attorney General entered the fray—targeting Jim and ROC to unjustly enforce the buffer zone against them. In April 2019, Rochester Police circulated a letter to Jim and his group of sidewalk counselors, threatening arrest if they were to violate the buffer zone. To protect Jim’s rights from unjust threats of prosecution by the NY Attorney General and the City of Rochester, Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit in July 2019 on Jim and ROC’s behalf. The lawsuit sought an injunction against the NY Attorney General and Rochester’s threats, and to clarify that Jim and ROC were not, in fact, bound by the “Arcara Injunction.”
It is long-standing precedent—and common sense—that a court cannot make a decree which will bind any person even when they are not a party to it. Yet, the district court sided with the NY Attorney General and Rochester by erroneously determining that Jim was bound by the terms of the “Arcara Injunction.” The district court then denied Jim’s request for an injunction and dismissed the case with prejudice.
Jim was not a party to the “Arcara Injunction” or legally identified with any of the parties named on the court order—nor were any of his fellow ROC Love Will End Abortion sidewalk advocates. NY Attorney General Letitia James attempted to stretch and reinterpret the law beyond any semblance of reason in order to shut down pro-life speech—violating the constitutional rights of pro-life sidewalk counselors in the process.
Thomas More Society appealed the district court’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. After years of waiting for a decision, the 2nd Circuit vindicated Jim’s rights in August 2023. The Court reversed the district court and stated: “We hold that a person who is not a named party to an injunction and who is not legally identified with a named party is bound by the injunction only from acting for the benefit of, or to assist, a named party in violating the injunction.” Jim did not act for the benefit or assist any of those named parties, and the Court agreed—finding that, “[a]ccording to the allegations in his complaint, Havens did not so act.” The case has now been sent back to the district court, to be reconsidered in light of the 2nd Circuit’s opinion.