Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette, Inc. v. American Coalition of Life Activists

290 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2002) (en banc)

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[NOTE: This case has been edited for classroom use by the omission of text, citations, and footnotes. See this alternate source (PDF format) for the full opinion.]

Circuit Judge Rymer


For the first time we construe what the Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances Act (FACE), 18 U.S.C. § 248, means by "threat of force." FACE gives aggrieved persons a right of action against whoever by "threat of force . . . intentionally . . . intimidates . . . any person because that person is or has been . . . providing reproductive health services." 18 U.S.C. § 248(a)(1) and (c)(1)(A). This requires that we define "threat of force" in a way that comports with the First Amendment, and it raises the question whether the conduct that occurred here falls within the category of unprotected speech.

Four physicians, Dr. Robert Crist, Dr. Warren M. Hern, Dr. Elizabeth Newhall, and Dr. James Newhall, and two health clinics that provide medical services to women including abortions, Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/ Willamette, Inc. (PPCW) and the Portland Feminist Women's Health Center (PFWHC), brought suit under FACE claiming that they were targeted with threats by the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA), Advocates for Life Ministries (ALM), and numerous individuals. Three threats remain at issue: the Deadly Dozen "GUILTY" poster which identifies Hern and the Newhalls among ten others; the Crist "GUILTY" poster with Crist's name, addresses and photograph; and the "Nuremberg Files," which is a compilation about those whom the ACLA anticipated one day might be put on trial for crimes against humanity. The "GUILTY" posters identifying specific physicians were circulated in the wake of a series of "WANTED" and "unWANTED" posters that had identified other doctors who performed abortions before they were murdered.

Although the posters do not contain a threat on their face, the district court held that context could be considered. It defined a threat under FACE in accordance with our "true threat" jurisprudence, as a statement made when "a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted by those to whom the maker communicates the statement as a serious expression of intent to harm." Applying this definition, the court denied ACLA's motion for summary judgment in a published opinion. Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/ Willamette, Inc. v. ACLA (PPCW II), 23 F. Supp. 2d 1182 (D. Or. 1998). The jury returned a verdict in physicians' favor, and the court enjoined ACLA from publishing the posters or providing other materials with the specific intent to threaten Crist, Hern, Elizabeth Newhall, James Newhall, PPCW, or the Health Center. Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette, Inc. v. ACLA (PPCW III), 41 F. Supp. 2d 1130 (D. Or. 1999). ACLA timely appealed.

A panel of this court reversed. In its view, the standard adopted by the district court allowed the jury to find ACLA liable for putting the doctors in harm's way by singling them out for the attention of unrelated but violent third parties, conduct which is protected by the First Amendment, rather than for authorizing or directly threatening harm itself, which is not. Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/ Willamette, Inc. v. ACLA (PPCW IV), 244 F. 3d 1007 (9th Cir.), reh'g en banc granted, 268 F. 3d 908 (9th Cir. 2001). The panel decided that it should evaluate the record independently to determine whether ACLA's statements could reasonably be construed as saying that ACLA, or its agents, would physically harm doctors who did not stop performing abortions. Having done so, the panel found that the jury's verdict could not stand.

We reheard the case en banc because these issues are obviously important. We now conclude that it was proper for the district court to adopt our long-standing law on "true threats" to define a "threat" for purposes of FACE. FACE itself requires that the threat of force be made with the intent to intimidate. Thus, the jury must have found that ACLA made statements to intimidate the physicians, reasonably foreseeing that physicians would interpret the statements as a serious expression of ACLA's intent to harm them because they provided reproductive health services. Construing the facts in the light most favorable to physicians, the verdict is supported by substantial evidence. ACLA was aware that a "wanted"-type poster would likely be interpreted as a serious threat of death or bodily harm by a doctor in the reproductive health services community who was identified on one, given the previous pattern of "WANTED" posters identifying a specific physician followed by that physician's murder. The same is true of the posting about these physicians on that part of the "Nuremberg Files" where lines were drawn through the names of doctors who provided abortion services and who had been killed or wounded. We are independently satisfied that to this limited extent, ACLA's conduct amounted to a true threat and is not protected speech. As we see no reversible error on liability or in the equitable relief that was granted, we affirm. However, we remand for consideration of whether the punitive damages award comports with due process.


The facts are fully set out in the district court's order granting injunctive relief, PPWC III, 41 F. Supp. 2d at 1131-1155, and we shall not belabor them. In sum: On March 10, 1993, Michael Griffin shot and killed Dr. David Gunn as he entered an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Before this, a "WANTED" and an "unWANTED" poster with Gunn's name, photograph, address and other personal information were published. . . .

On August 21, 1993, Dr. George Patterson, who operated the clinic where Gunn worked, was shot to death. A "WANTED" poster had been circulated prior to his murder, indicating where he performed abortions and that he had Gunn perform abortions for his Pensacola clinic.

In July 1994, Dr. John Bayard Britton was murdered by Paul Hill after being named on an "unWANTED" poster that Hill helped to prepare. . . .

Many pro-life activists in Operation Rescue condemned these acts of violence. As a result, ALM, Bray, Burnett, Crane, Foreman, McMillan, Ramey and Stover, who espoused a "pro-force" point of view, split off to form ACLA. . . . ALM publishes Life Advocate, a magazine that is distributed nationally and advocates the use of force to oppose the delivery of abortion services. Except for Bray, who authored A Time to Kill and served time in federal prison for conspiring to bomb ten clinics, the individual defendants were directors of ACLA and actively involved in its affairs. . . .

ACLA presented the Deadly Dozen poster during a January 25, 1995 press conference at the March for Life event in Washington, D. C. Bray, Burnett, Crane, Dodds, Foreman, McMillan, Murch, Ramey, Stover, Treshman and Wysong were there; Dreste later ratified the poster's release. This poster is captioned "GUILTY" at the top (which meant the same thing to Crane, who drafted it, as "wanted"), beneath which in slightly smaller print the poster indicates "OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY." . . . Under the heading "THE DEADLY DOZEN," the poster identifies thirteen doctors of whom James Newhall, Elizabeth Newhall, and Warren Hern are three. The poster provides Hern's residence and the home address of James Newhall and Elizabeth Newhall; it also lists the name and home address of Dr. George Kabacy, a doctor who provided abortions at PPCW. . . . The day after the Deadly Dozen poster was released, the FBI offered protection to doctors identified on it and advised them to wear bulletproof vests and take other security precautions, which they did. Knowing this, ALM reprinted the poster in the March 1995 edition of its magazine Life Advocate under a cover with the "grim reaper" holding a scythe; Murch printed it in his newsletter Salt & Light; and ACLA republished the Deadly Dozen poster at events in August 1995 and January 1996.

ACLA released the Crist poster along with five others in August 1995 at the old federal courthouse in St. Louis where the Dred Scott decision had been handed down. Burnett, Crane, Dreste, McMillan, Ramey, Stover and Wysong attended the event. Three of the posters identify doctors; the others identify reproductive health care clinics, one of which was a Planned Parenthood affiliate where Crist worked. The Crist poster has "GUILTY" in large bold letters at the top followed by "OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY" in smaller font. It also gives his home and work addresses . . . .

At its January 1996 conference, ACLA displayed the Deadly Dozen poster, held a "White Rose Banquet" to honor prisoners convicted of anti-abortion violence, and introduced ALM's Paul deParrie to unveil the "Nuremberg Files." ACLA sent a hard copy of some of the Files to Neal Horsley (a non-party) to post on the internet, and ACLA's name appeared on the Nuremberg Files website opened in January 1997. Approximately 200 people are listed under the label "ABORTIONISTS: the shooters," and 200 more are listed under Files for judges, politicians, law enforcement, spouses, and abortion rights supporters. Crist, Hern and the Newhalls are listed in the "abortionists" section, which bears the legend: "Black font (working); Greyed-out Name (wounded); Strikethrough (fatality)." The names of Gunn, Patterson and Britton are struck through.

By January 1995 ACLA knew the effect that "WANTED," "unWANTED," or "GUILTY" posters had on doctors named in them. . . .

By January 1995 the physicians knew about the Gunn, Patterson and Britton murders and the posters that preceded each. Hern was terrified when his name appeared on the Deadly Dozen poster . . . . Hern interpreted the poster as meaning "Do what we tell you to do, or we will kill you. And they do." Crist was "truly frightened," and stopped practicing medicine for a while out of fear for his life. Dr. Elizabeth Newhall interpreted the Deadly Dozen poster as saying that if she didn't stop doing abortions, her life was at risk. Dr. James Newhall was "severely frightened" in light of the "clear pattern" of a wanted poster and a murder when there was "another wanted poster with my name on it."

The jury found for plaintiffs on all claims except for Bray and Treshman on the RICO claims.n4 The district court then considered equitable relief. It found that each defendant used intimidation as a means of interfering with the provision of reproductive health services; that each independently and as a co-conspirator published and distributed the Deadly Dozen poster, the Crist poster, and the Nuremberg Files; and that each acted with malice and specific intent in communicating true threats to kill, assault or do bodily harm to each of the plaintiffs to intimidate them from engaging in legal medical practices and procedures. The court found that the balance of hardships weighed "overwhelmingly" in plaintiffs' favor. It also found that the defendants' actions were not protected speech under the First Amendment. Accordingly, it issued a permanent injunction restraining defendants from threatening, with the specific intent to do so, any of the plaintiffs in violation of FACE; from publishing or distributing the Deadly Dozen poster and the Crist poster with specific intent to threaten the plaintiffs; from providing additional material concerning plaintiffs, with a specific intent to threaten, to the Nuremberg Files or similar web site; and from publishing or distributing the personally identifying information about the plaintiffs in the Files with a specific intent to threaten. The court also required defendants to turn over materials that are not in compliance with the injunction except for one copy of anything included in the record, which counsel was permitted to retain.


. . .

. . . [T]he proper definition of a "threat" for purposes of FACE is a question of law that we review de novo. . . . Assuming that the district court correctly defined "threat" and properly instructed the jury on the elements of liability pursuant to the statute, our review is for substantial evidence supporting the historical facts (including credibility determinations) and the elements of statutory liability (including intent). We review the district court's findings with respect to injunctive relief for clear error and its conclusions of law de novo. However, while we normally review the scope of injunctive relief for abuse of discretion, we will scrutinize the relief granted in this case to determine whether the challenged provisions of the injunction burden no more speech than necessary to achieve its goals.

Given that the verdict for physicians and the injunctive relief granted in their favor restrict speech, we review the record independently in order to satisfy ourselves that the posters and the Files constitute a "true threat" such that they lack First Amendment protection. We will consider the undisputed facts as true, and construe the historical facts, the findings on the statutory elements, and all credibility determinations in favor of the prevailing party. In this way we give appropriate deference to the trier of fact, here both the jury and the district judge, yet assure that evidence of the core constitutional fact--a true threat--falls within the unprotected category and is narrowly enough bounded as a matter of constitutional law.


ACLA argues that the First Amendment requires reversal because liability was based on political speech that constituted neither an incitement to imminent lawless action nor a true threat. It suggests that the key question for us to consider is whether these posters can be considered "true threats" when, in fact, the posters on their face contain no explicitly threatening language. Further, ACLA submits that classic political speech cannot be converted into non-protected speech by a context of violence that includes the independent action of others.

Physicians counter that this threats case must be analyzed under the settled threats law of this circuit. Following precedent, it was proper for the jury to take context into account. They point out that the district court limited evidence of anti-abortion violence to evidence tending to show knowledge of a particular defendant, and maintain that the objective standard on which the jury was instructed comports both with Ninth Circuit law and congressional intent. As the First Amendment does not protect true threats of force, physicians conclude, ACLA's speech was not protected.


We start with the statute under which this action arises. Section 248(c)(1)(A) gives a private right of action to any person aggrieved by reason of the conduct prohibited by subsection (a). Subsection (a)(1) provides:

(a) . . . Whoever--
(1) by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person because that person is or has been, or in order to intimidate such person or any other person or any class of persons from, obtaining or providing reproductive health services . . .
shall be subject to the . . . civil remedies provided in subsection (c) . . . .
18 U.S.C. § 248(a)(1). The statute also provides that "[n]othing in this section shall be construed . . . to prohibit any expressive conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration) protected from legal prohibition by the First Amendment to the Constitution." 18 U.S.C. § 248(d)(1).

FACE does not define "threat," although it does provide that "[t]he term 'intimidate' means to place a person in reasonable apprehension of bodily harm to him-or herself or to another." 18 U.S.C. § 248 (e)(3). Thus, the first task is to define "threat" for purposes of the Act. This requires a definition that comports with the First Amendment, that is, a "true threat."

The Supreme Court has provided benchmarks, but no definition.

Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969), makes it clear that the First Amendment protects speech that advocates violence, so long as the speech is not directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is not likely to incite or produce such action. . . . If ACLA had merely endorsed or encouraged the violent actions of others, its speech would be protected.

However, while advocating violence is protected, threatening a person with violence is not. In Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705 (1969), the Court explicitly distinguished between political hyperbole, which is protected, and true threats, which are not. Considering how to construe a statute which prohibited "knowingly and willfully . . . (making) any threat to take the life of or to inflict bodily harm upon the President," the Court admonished that any statute which criminalizes a form of pure speech "must be interpreted with the commands of the First Amendment clearly in mind. What is a threat must be distinguished from what is constitutionally protected speech." Id. at 705, 707. In that case, an 18-year old war protester told a discussion group of other young people at a public rally on the Washington Monument grounds: ". . . . If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J." Id. at 706. His audience laughed. Taken in context, and given the conditional nature of the statement and the reaction of the listeners, the Court concluded that the speech could not be interpreted other than as "a kind of very crude offensive method of stating a political opposition to the President." Id. at 708. Accordingly, it ordered judgment entered for Watts.

ACLA's position is that the posters, including the Nuremberg Files, are protected political speech under Watts, and cannot lose this character by context. But this is not correct. The Court itself considered context and determined that Watts's statement was political hyperbole instead of a true threat because of context. Beyond this, ACLA points out that the posters contain no language that is a threat. We agree that this is literally true. Therefore, ACLA submits, this case is really an incitement case in disguise. So viewed, the posters are protected speech under Brandenburg and NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886 (1982), which ACLA suggests is the closest analogue. We disagree that Claiborne is closely analogous.

In March 1966 black citizens in Claiborne County made a list of demands for racial equality and integration. Unsatisfied by the response, several hundred black persons at a meeting of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) voted to place a boycott on white merchants in the area. The boycott continued until October 1969. During this period, stores were watched and the names of persons who violated the boycott were read at meetings of the NAACP at the First Baptist Church, and published in a local paper called "Black-Times." These persons were branded as traitors to the black cause, were called demeaning names, and were socially ostracized. A few incidents of violence occurred. . . . White business owners brought suit against the NAACP and Charles Evers, its field secretary, along with other individuals who had participated in the boycott . . . . Plaintiffs pursued several theories of liability . . . .

The Court held that there could be no recovery based on intimidation by threats of social ostracism, because offensive and coercive speech is protected by the First Amendment. "The use of speeches, marches, and threats of social ostracism cannot provide the basis for a damages award. But violent conduct is beyond the pale of constitutional protection." 458 U.S. at 933. . . . [T]he Court made clear that only losses proximately caused by unlawful conduct could be recovered. Further, civil liability could not be imposed consistent with the First Amendment solely on account of an individual's association with others who have committed acts of violence; he must have incited or authorized them himself.

For the same reasons the Court held that liability could not be imposed on Evers for his participation in the boycott itself, or for his threats of vilification or ostracism. However, the merchants also sought damages from Evers for his speeches. He gave one in April 1966, and two others in April 1969. In the first, he told his audience that they would be watched and that blacks who traded with white merchants would be answerable to him; he also said that any "uncle toms" who broke the boycott would "have their necks broken" by their own people. In his April 19, 1969 speech, Evers stated that boycott violators would be "disciplined" by their own people and warned that the Sheriff could not sleep with boycott violators at night. And on April 21, Evers gave another speech to several hundred people calling for a total boycott of white-owned businesses and saying: "If we catch any of you going in any of them racist stores, we're gonna break your damn neck." The Court concluded that the "emotionally charged rhetoric" of Evers's speeches was within the bounds of Brandenberg. It was not followed by violence, and there was no evidence--apart from the speeches themselves--that Evers authorized, ratified, or directly threatened violence. . . .

Claiborne, of course, did not arise under a threats statute. The Court had no need to consider whether Evers's statements were true threats of force within the meaning of a threats statute; it held only that his speeches did not incite illegal activity, thus could not have caused business losses and could not be the basis for liability to white merchants. As the opinion points out, there was no context to give the speeches (including the expression "break your neck") the implication of authorizing or directly threatening unlawful conduct. To the extent there was any intimidating overtone, Evers's rhetoric was extemporaneous, surrounded by statements supporting non-violent action, and primarily of the social ostracism sort. . . .

Thus, Watts was the only Supreme Court case that discussed the First Amendment in relation to true threats before we first confronted the issue. Apart from holding that Watts's crack about L.B.J. was not a true threat, the Court set out no standard for determining when a statement is a true threat that is unprotected speech under the First Amendment. Shortly after Watts was rendered, we had to decide in Roy v. United States, 416 F. 2d 874 (9th Cir. 1969), whether a Marine Corps private made a true threat for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 871 against the President, who was coming to his base the next day, by saying: "I am going to get him." We adopted a "reasonable speaker" test. As it has come to be articulated, the test is: Whether a particular statement may properly be considered to be a threat is governed by an objective standard--whether a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted by those to whom the maker communicates the statement as a serious expression of intent to harm or assault. United States v. Orozco-Santillan, 903 F. 2d 1262, 1265 (9th Cir. 1990).

We have applied this test to threats statutes that are similar to FACE. Other circuits have, too. We see no reason not to apply the same test to FACE.

Under our cases, a threat is "an expression of an intention to inflict evil, injury, or damage on another." United States v. Gilbert (Gilbert II) 884 F. 2d 454, 457 (9th Cir. 1989); Orozco-Santillan, 903 F. 2d at 1265. "Alleged threats should be considered in light of their entire factual context, including the surrounding events and reaction of the listeners." Orozco-Santillan, 903 F. 2d at 1265. A true threat, that is one "where a reasonable person would foresee that the listener will believe he will be subjected to physical violence upon his person, is unprotected by the first amendment." Id..

It is not necessary that the defendant intend to, or be able to carry out his threat; the only intent requirement for a true threat is that the defendant intentionally or knowingly communicate the threat. Other circuits are in accord. . . .

The dissents would change the test, either to require that the speaker actually intend to carry out the threat or be in control of those who will, or to make it inapplicable when the speech is public rather than private. However, for years our test has focused on what a reasonable speaker would foresee the listener's reaction to be under the circumstances, and that is where we believe it should remain. Threats are outside the First Amendment to "protect[ ] individuals from the fear of violence, from the disruption that fear engenders, and from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur." R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, Minn., 505 U.S. 377, 388 (1992). This purpose is not served by hinging constitutionality on the speaker's subjective intent or capacity to do (or not to do) harm. Rather, these factors go to how reasonably foreseeable it is to a speaker that the listener will seriously take his communication as an intent to inflict bodily harm. This suffices to distinguish a "true threat" from speech that is merely frightening. Thus, no reasonable speaker would foresee that a patient would take the statement "You have cancer and will die within six months," or that a pedestrian would take a warning "Get out of the way of that bus," as a serious expression of intent to inflict bodily harm; the harm is going to happen anyway.

Neither do we agree that threatening speech made in public is entitled to heightened constitutional protection just because it is communicated publicly rather than privately. . . .

. . .

Therefore, we hold that "threat of force" in FACE means what our settled threats law says a true threat is: a statement which, in the entire context and under all the circumstances, a reasonable person would foresee would be interpreted by those to whom the statement is communicated as a serious expression of intent to inflict bodily harm upon that person. So defined, a threatening statement that violates FACE is unprotected under the First Amendment.


Although ACLA does not believe we should reach this point, if we do it submits that no claim was made out even under "true threats" cases. First, it argues that other threats cases were criminal actions against someone who made a real threat directly to others, not political speech as is the case here. It contrasts what it calls "a threat plus context" present in United States v. Dinwiddie, 76 F. 3d 913 (8th Cir. 1996), and in other out-of-circuit cases, with the absence of a direct threat in this case. However, our cases do not require that the maker of the threat personally cause physical harm to the listener. . . . No case to our knowledge has imposed such a requirement, and we decline to now. It is the making of the threat with intent to intimidate--not the implementation of it--that violates FACE.

We do not understand Dinwiddie to hold anything different. Dinwiddie was also a civil suit under FACE. Mrs. Dinwiddie made comments to Crist outside his clinic, warning "Robert, remember Dr. Gunn . . . This could happen to you . . . He is not in the world anymore. Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed." 76 F. 3d at 917. She also said: "[Y]ou have not seen violence yet until you see what we do to you." Id. . . . The court concluded that although Mrs. Dinwiddie did not specifically say to Dr. Crist, "I am going to injure you," the statements in context, and Crist's reaction to them, show that they were "threats of force" that "intimidated" Crist. The court also noted that the fact that Mrs. Dinwiddie did not specifically say to Crist that she would injure him does not mean that her comments were not "threats of force." Id. at 925 n. 9. Accordingly, the court upheld an injunction ordering Mrs. Dinwiddie to stop violating FACE (which, as it pointed out, would have a de minimis effect on her ability to express herself) and approved the injunction's nationwide scope.

ACLA also maintains that "context" means the direct circumstances surrounding delivery of the threat, or evidence sufficient to resolve ambiguity in the words of the statement--not two weeks of testimony as occurred here in the district court. Otherwise, ACLA submits, FACE is facially invalid. However, none of our cases has limited "context" to explaining ambiguous words, or to delivery. We, and so far as we can tell, other circuits as well, consider the whole factual context and "all of the circumstances," United States v. Merrill, 746 F. 2d 458, 462 (9th Cir. 1984), in order to determine whether a statement is a true threat. . . .

Indeed, context is critical in a true threats case and history can give meaning to the medium. Use of Ryder trucks--which the Eighth Circuit found to be a true threat in United States v. Hart, 212 F. 3d 1067 (8th Cir. 2000)--is an example that is strikingly similar to the use of "wanted"-type posters in this case. Hart, who was a known anti-abortion activist, parked two Ryder trucks in the driveways of an abortion clinic. He was prosecuted and convicted of violating FACE. The court held that Hart had threatened the clinic to intimidate it by using Ryder trucks, because a Ryder truck had been used in the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. Hart knew the clinicians knew this and would fear for their lives. Thus, use of the Ryder truck was a true threat. Like the poster format here, the Ryder truck in Hart was a symbol of something beyond the vehicle: there, a devastating bomb; in this case, murder.

ACLA's contention that allowing consideration of context beyond the direct circumstances surrounding delivery of the words themselves creates a facial invalidity in FACE and the Hobbs Act is unavailing. Of the courts to consider the constitutionality of threats statutes, including the United States Supreme Court in Watts, all have upheld constitutionality and ACLA points to none that has disallowed consideration of context. This makes sense, because without context, a burning cross or dead rat mean nothing. In any event, the requirement of intent to intimidate cures whatever risk there might be of overbreadth.

Nor does consideration of context amount to viewpoint discrimination, as ACLA contends. ACLA's theory appears to be that because the posters did not contain any threat on their face, the views of abortion foes are chilled more than the views of abortion-right proponents because of the random acts of violence committed by some people against abortion providers. However, FACE itself is viewpoint neutral. Moreover, ACLA could not be liable under FACE unless it made a true threat with the intent to intimidate physicians. Thus it is making a threat to intimidate that makes ACLA's conduct unlawful, not its viewpoint.

Because of context, we conclude that the Crist and Deadly Dozen posters are not just a political statement. Even if the Gunn poster, which was the first "WANTED" poster, was a purely political message when originally issued, and even if the Britton poster were too, by the time of the Crist poster, the poster format itself had acquired currency as a death threat for abortion providers. Gunn was killed after his poster was released; Britton was killed after his poster was released; and Patterson was killed after his poster was released. Knowing this, and knowing the fear generated among those in the reproductive health services community who were singled out for identification on a "wanted"-type poster, ACLA deliberately identified Crist on a "GUILTY" poster and intentionally put the names of Hern and the Newhalls on the Deadly Dozen "GUILTY" poster to intimidate them. This goes well beyond the political message (regardless of what one thinks of it) that abortionists are killers who deserve death too.

The Nuremberg Files are somewhat different. Although they name individuals, they name hundreds of them. The avowed intent is "collecting dossiers on abortionists in anticipation that one day we may be able to hold them on trial for crimes against humanity." The web page states: "One of the great tragedies of the Nuremberg trials of Nazis after WWII was that complete information and documented evidence had not been collected so many war criminals went free or were only found guilty of minor crimes. We do not want the same thing to happen when the day comes to charge abortionists with their crimes. We anticipate the day when these people will be charged in PERFECTLY LEGAL COURTS once the tide of this nation's opinion turns against child-killing (as it surely will)." However offensive or disturbing this might be to those listed in the Files, being offensive and provocative is protected under the First Amendment. But, in two critical respects, the Files go further. In addition to listing judges, politicians and law enforcement personnel, the Files separately categorize "Abortionists" and list the names of individuals who provide abortion services, including, specifically, Crist, Hern, and both Newhalls. Also, names of abortion providers who have been murdered because of their activities are lined through in black, while names of those who have been wounded are highlighted in grey. As a result, we cannot say that it is clear as a matter of law that listing Crist, Hern, and the Newhalls on both the Nuremberg Files and the GUILTY posters is purely protected, political expression.

Accordingly, whether the Crist Poster, the Deadly Dozen poster, and the identification of Crist, Hern, Dr. Elizabeth Newhall and Dr. James Newhall in the Nuremberg Files as well as on "wanted"-type posters, constituted true threats was properly for the jury to decide.

. . .


Having concluded that "threat of force" was properly defined and that no trial error requires reversal, we consider whether the core constitutional fact--a true threat--exists such that the Crist and Deadly Dozen Posters, and the Nuremberg Files as to Crist, Hern, and the Newhalls, are without First Amendment protection. The task in this case does not seem dramatically different from determining that the issue should have gone to the jury and that the jury was properly instructed under FACE. Nevertheless, we review the evidence on true threats independently.

. . .

The posters are a true threat because, like Ryder trucks or burning crosses, they connote something they do not literally say, yet both the actor and the recipient get the message. To the doctor who performs abortions, these posters meant "You're Wanted or You're Guilty; You'll be shot or killed." This was reinforced by the scorecard in the Nuremberg Files. The communication was not conditional or casual. It was specifically targeted. Crist, Hern, and the Newhalls, who performed abortions, were not amused. The "GUILTY" posters were publicly distributed, but personally targeted. While a privately communicated threat is generally more likely to be taken seriously than a diffuse public one, this cannot be said of a threat that is made publicly but is about a specifically identified doctor and is in the same format that had previously resulted in the death of three doctors who had also been publicly, yet specifically, targeted. . . .

As a direct result of having a "GUILTY" poster out on them, physicians wore bulletproof vests and took other extraordinary security measures to protect themselves and their families. ACLA had every reason to foresee that its expression of intent to harm (the "GUILTY" poster identifying Crist, Hern, Elizabeth Newhall and James Newhall by name and putting them in the File that tracks hits and misses) would elicit this reaction. Physicians' fear did not simply happen; ACLA intended to intimidate them from doing what they do.

This is the point of the statute and is conduct that we are satisfied lacks any protection under the First Amendment. Violence is not a protected value. Nor is a true threat of violence with intent to intimidate. ACLA may have been staking out a position for debate when it merely advocated violence as in Bray's A Time to Kill, or applauded it, as in the Defense Action petitions. Likewise, when it created the Nuremberg Files in the abstract, because the First Amendment does not preclude calling people demeaning or inflammatory names, or threatening social ostracism or vilification to advocate a political position. But, after being on "wanted"-type posters, Dr. Gunn, Dr. Patterson, and Dr. Britton can no longer participate in the debate. By replicating the poster pattern that preceded the elimination of Gunn, Patterson and Britton, and by putting Crist, Hern, and the Newhalls in an abortionists' File that scores fatalities, ACLA was not staking out a position of debate but of threatened demise. This turns the First Amendment on its head.

Like "fighting words," true threats are proscribable. We therefore conclude that the judgment of liability in physicians' favor is constitutionally permissible.

. . .


After trial, the district court . . . . permanently enjoined each of the defendants, their agents, and all persons in active concert with any of them who receive actual notice, from threatening, with the specific intent to do so, Crist, Hern, Dr. Elizabeth Newhall, Dr. James Newhall, PPCW and PFWHC in violation of FACE; publishing, republishing, reproducing or distributing the Deadly Dozen Poster, or the Crist poster, or their equivalent, with specific intent to threaten physicians, PPCW or PFWHC; and from providing additional material concerning Crist, Hern, either Newhall, PPCW or PFWHC to the Nuremberg Files or any mirror web site with a specific intent to threaten, as well as from publishing the personally identifying information about them in the Nuremberg Files with a specific intent to threaten. The court also ordered ACLA to turn over possession of materials that are not in compliance with the injunction.

ACLA complains principally about the restraint on possessing the posters. . . . However . . . the "wanted"-type posters themselves--not their ideological content--are the tool for threatening physicians. In this sense the posters' status is more like conduct than speech. The First Amendment interest in retaining possession of the threatening posters is de minimis, while ACLA's continued possession of them constitutes part of the threat. The court heard all the evidence, which included testimony that some defendants obstructed justice and ignored injunctions. Accordingly, we cannot say that the turnover order was broader than necessary to assure that this particular threat will not be used again.

ACLA also suggests that the injunction is an improper prior restraint on speech because it prohibits dissemination of the posters. It is not. The Supreme Court has rejected the notion that all injunctions which incidentally affect expression are prior restraints. . . . [T]he injunction here was not issued because of the content of ACLA's expression, but because of prior unlawful conduct. The terms of the injunction are finely tuned and exceedingly narrow. Only threats or use of the posters or their equivalent with the specific intent to threaten Crist, Hern, either Newhall, PPCW or PFWHC are prohibited. Only personal information about these particular persons may not be used in the Nuremberg Files with the specific intent to threaten them. This leaves huge room for ACLA to express its views.


A "threat of force" for purposes of FACE is properly defined in accordance with our long-standing test on "true threats," as "whether a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted by those to whom the maker communicates the statement as a serious expression of intent to harm or assault." This, coupled with the statute's requirement of intent to intimidate, comports with the First Amendment.

We have reviewed the record and are satisfied that use of the Crist Poster, the Deadly Dozen Poster, and the individual plaintiffs' listing in the Nuremberg Files constitute a true threat. In three prior incidents, a "wanted"-type poster identifying a specific doctor who provided abortion services was circulated, and the doctor named on the poster was killed. ACLA and physicians knew of this, and both understood the significance of the particular posters specifically identifying each of them. ACLA realized that "wanted" or "guilty" posters had a threatening meaning that physicians would take seriously. In conjunction with the "guilty" posters, being listed on a Nuremberg Files scorecard for abortion providers impliedly threatened physicians with being next on a hit list. To this extent only, the Files are also a true threat. However, the Nuremberg Files are protected speech.

There is substantial evidence that these posters were prepared and disseminated to intimidate physicians from providing reproductive health services. Thus, ACLA was appropriately found liable for a true threat to intimidate under FACE. Holding ACLA accountable for this conduct does not impinge on legitimate protest or advocacy. Restraining it from continuing to threaten these physicians burdens speech no more than necessary.

Therefore, we affirm the judgment in all respects but for punitive damages, as to which we remand.





Footnotes to Court's Opinion

4 On the FACE claims, the jury awarded $39,656 to Crist, $14,429 to Hern, $15,797.98 to Elizabeth Newhall, $375 to James Newhall, $405,834.86 to PPCW, and $50,243 to PFWHC from each defendant as compensatory damages and $14.5 million to Crist, $13 million to Hern, $14 million to Elizabeth Newhall, $14 million to James Newhall, $29.5 million to PPCW, and $23.5 million to PFWHC in punitive damages. On the RICO claims (after trebling), Crist was awarded $892,260; Hern, $324,657; Elizabeth Newhall, $355,454; James Newhall, $8,442; PPCW $9,131,280; and PFWHC, $1,130,466.




Dissenting Opinion of Circuit Judge Kozinski

joined by Circuit Judges Reinhardt, O'Scannlain, Kleinfeld, and Berzon

The majority writes a lengthy opinion in a vain effort to justify a crushing monetary judgment and a strict injunction against speech protected by the First Amendment. The apparent thoroughness of the opinion, addressing a variety of issues that are not in serious dispute, masks the fact that the majority utterly fails to apply its own definition of a threat, and affirms the verdict and injunction when the evidence in the record does not support a finding that defendants threatened plaintiffs. After meticulously canvassing the caselaw, the majority correctly distills the following definition of a true threat: "a statement which, in the entire context and under all the circumstances, a reasonable person would foresee would be interpreted by those to whom the statement is communicated as a serious expression of intent to inflict bodily harm upon that person." (emphasis added).n2 The emphasized language is crucial, because it is not illegal--and cannot be made so--merely to say things that would frighten or intimidate the listener. For example, when a doctor says, "You have cancer and will die within six months," it is not a threat, even though you almost certainly will be frightened. Similarly, "Get out of the way of that bus" is not a threat, even though it is said in order to scare you into changing your behavior. By contrast, "If you don't stop performing abortions, I'll kill you" is a true threat and surely illegal.

The difference between a true threat and protected expression is this: A true threat warns of violence or other harm that the speaker controls. Thus, when a doctor tells a patient, "Stop smoking or you'll die of lung cancer," that is not a threat because the doctor obviously can't cause the harm to come about. Similarly, "If you walk in that neighborhood late at night, you're going to get mugged" is not a threat, unless it is clear that the speaker himself (or one of his associates) will be doing the mugging.

In this case, none of the statements on which liability was premised were overtly threatening. On the contrary, the two posters and the web page, by their explicit terms, foreswore the use of violence and advocated lawful means of persuading plaintiffs to stop performing abortions or punishing them for continuing to do so. Nevertheless, because context matters, the statements could reasonably be interpreted as an effort to intimidate plaintiffs into ceasing their abortion-related activities. If that were enough to strip the speech of First Amendment protection, there would be nothing left to decide. But the Supreme Court has told us that "[s]peech does not lose its protected character . . . simply because it may embarrass others or coerce them into action." NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886, 910 (1982) (emphasis added). In other words, some forms of intimidation enjoy constitutional protection.

Only a year after Claiborne Hardware, we incorporated this principle into our circuit's true threat jurisprudence. Striking down as overbroad a Montana statute that made it a crime to communicate to another "a threat to . . . commit a criminal offense," we stated: "The mere fact that communication induces or 'coerces' action in others does not remove it from first amendment protection." Wurtz v. Risley, 719 F. 2d 1438, 1441 (9th Cir. 1983) (quoting Claiborne Hardware, 458 U.S. at 911). . . . Claiborne Hardware and Wurtz hold that statements that are intimidating, even coercive, are protected by the First Amendment, so long as the speaker does not threaten that he, or someone acting in concert with him, will resort to violence if the warning is not heeded.

The majority recognizes that this is the standard it must apply, yet when it undertakes the critical task of canvassing the record for evidence that defendants made a true threat--a task the majority acknowledges we must perform de novo--its opinion fails to come up with any proof that defendants communicated an intent to inflict bodily harm upon plaintiffs. . . . The majority does not point to any statement by defendants that they intended to inflict bodily harm on plaintiffs, nor is there any evidence that defendants took any steps whatsoever to plan or carry out physical violence against anyone. . . .

The record reveals one instance where an individual--Paul Hill, who is not a defendant in this case--participated in the preparation of the poster depicting a physician, Dr. Britton, and then murdered him. All others who helped to make that poster, as well as those who prepared the other posters, did not resort to violence. There is therefore no pattern showing that people who prepare wanted-type posters then engage in physical violence. To the extent the posters indicate a pattern, it is that almost all people engaged in poster-making were non-violent.n3

. . .

Plaintiffs themselves explained that the fear they felt came, not from defendants, but from being singled out for attention by abortion protesters across the country. . . .

From the point of view of the victims, it makes little difference whether the violence against them will come from the makers of the posters or from unrelated third parties; bullets kill their victims regardless of who pulls the trigger. But it makes a difference for the purpose of the First Amendment. Speech--especially political speech, as this clearly was--may not be punished or enjoined unless it falls into one of the narrow categories of unprotected speech recognized by the Supreme Court: true threat, Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 707 (1969), incitement, Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969), conspiracy to commit criminal acts, Scales v. United States, 367 U.S. 203, 229 (1961), fighting words, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 572-73 (1942), etc.

Even assuming that one could somehow distill a true threat from the posters themselves, the majority opinion is still fatally defective because it contradicts the central holding of Claiborne Hardware: Where the speaker is engaged in public political speech, the public statements themselves cannot be the sole proof that they were true threats, unless the speech directly threatens actual injury to identifiable individuals. Absent such an unmistakable, specific threat, there must be evidence aside from the political statements themselves showing that the public speaker would himself or in conspiracy with others inflict unlawful harm. 458 U.S. at 932-34. The majority cites not a scintilla of evidence--other than the posters themselves--that plaintiffs or someone associated with them would carry out the threatened harm.

Given this lack of evidence, the posters can be viewed, at most, as a call to arms for other abortion protesters to harm plaintiffs. However, the Supreme Court made it clear that under Brandenburg, encouragement or even advocacy of violence is protected by the First Amendment: "[M]ere advocacy of the use of force or violence does not remove speech from the protection of the First Amendment." Claiborne Hardware, 458 U.S. at 927 (citing Brandenburg, 395 U.S. at 447) (emphasis in the original).n5 Claiborne Hardware in fact goes much farther; it cautions that where liability is premised on "politically motivated" activities, we must "examine critically the basis on which liability was imposed." Id. at 915. As the Court explained, "Since respondents would impose liability on the basis of a public address--which predominantly contained highly charged political rhetoric lying at the core of the First Amendment--we approach this suggested basis for liability with extreme care." Id. at 926-27. This is precisely what the majority does not do; were it to do so, it would have no choice but to reverse.

The activities for which the district court held defendants liable were unquestionably of a political nature. . . .

. . .

While set in a different time and place, and involving a very different political cause, Claiborne Hardware bears remarkable similarities to our case:

• Like Claiborne Hardware, this case involves a concerted effort by a variety of groups and individuals in pursuit of a common political cause. Some of the activities were lawful, others were not. In both cases, there was evidence that the various players communicated with each other and, at times, engaged in concerted action. The Supreme Court, however, held that mere association with groups or individuals who pursue unlawful conduct is an insufficient basis for the imposition of liability, unless it is shown that the defendants actually participated in or authorized the illegal conduct.

• Both here and in Claiborne Hardware, there were instances of actual violence that followed heated rhetoric. The Court made clear, however, that unless the violence follows promptly after the speeches, thus meeting the stringent Brandenburg standard for incitement, no liability could be imposed on account of the speech.

• The statements on which liability was premised in both cases were made during the course of political rallies and had a coercive effect on the intended targets. Yet the Supreme Court held in Claiborne Hardware that coercion alone could not serve as the basis for liability, because it had not been shown--by evidence aside from the political speeches themselves--that defendants or their agents were involved in or authorized actual violence.

• In Claiborne Hardware, the boycott organizers gathered facts--the identity of those who violated the boycott--and publicized them to the community by way of speeches and a newspaper. As in our case, this ostentatious gathering of information, and publication thereof, were intended to put pressure on those whose names were publicized, and perhaps put them in fear that they will become objects of violence by members of the community. Yet the Supreme Court held that this could not form the basis for liability.n7

To the extent Claiborne Hardware differs from our case, the difference makes ours a far weaker case for the imposition of liability. To begin with, Charles Evers's speeches in Clairborne Hardware explicitly threatened physical violence. . . . In our case, the defendants never called for violence at all, and certainly said nothing suggesting that they personally would be involved in any violence against the plaintiffs.

Another difference between the two cases is that the record in Claiborne Hardware showed a concerted action between the boycott organizers, all of whom operated within close physical proximity in a small Mississippi county. By contrast, there is virtually no evidence that defendants had engaged in any concerted action with any of the other individuals who prepared "wanted" posters in the past.

The most striking difference between the two cases is that one of Evers's speeches in Claiborne Hardware, which expressly threatened violence against the boycott violators, was in fact followed by violence; he then made additional speeches, again referring to violence against boycott breakers. By contrast, the record here contains no evidence that violence was committed against any doctor after his name appeared on defendants' posters or web page.

The opinion's effort to distinguish Claiborne Hardware does not bear scrutiny. . . . Evers's statements were threatening on their face. . . . By any measure, the statements in our case are far less threatening on their face, yet the majority chooses to defer to the jury's determination that they were true threats.

. . . . [T]he threats in Claiborne Hardware were also individually targeted. . . .

Claiborne Hardware ultimately stands for the proposition that those who would punish or deter protected speech must make a very substantial showing that the speech stands outside the umbrella of the First Amendment. . . .

The cases on which the majority relies do not support its conclusion. United States v. Hart, 212 F. 3d 1067 (8th Cir. 2000), is a case where the communication did not merely threaten harm in the future, but was itself perceived as dangerous. The defendant there parked two Ryder trucks in the driveway of an abortion clinic, as close to the building as possible. Given the association of Ryder trucks with the Oklahoma City bombing, and the timing and location of the incident, the trucks could reasonably be suspected of containing explosives. They were much like mailing a parcel containing a ticking clock or an envelope leaking white powder. The threat in Hart came not from the message itself, but from the potentially dangerous medium used to deliver it.

. . . . In our case, the defendants merely displayed posters at locations nowhere near the plaintiffs' homes or workplaces. The threat, if any there was, came not from the posters themselves, but from the effect they would have in rousing others to take up arms against the plaintiffs. Hart has no relevance whatsoever to our case.

Nor does United States v. Dinwiddie, 76 F. 3d 913 (8th Cir. 1996), a case involving repeated face-to-face confrontations between the defendant and the targets of her harangues, help the majority. . . . Where the speaker directly confronts her target and expressly states that she is among those who will carry out the violence, it is hardly surprising when the court finds that there has been a true threat.n12

We have recognized that statements communicated directly to the target are much more likely to be true threats than those, as here, communicated as part of a public protest. . . .

. . .

Finally, a word about the remedy. The majority affirms a crushing liability verdict, including the award of punitive damages, in addition to the injunction. An injunction against political speech is bad enough, but the liability verdict will have a far more chilling effect. . . . The lesson of what a local jury has done to defendants here will not be lost on others who would engage in heated political rhetoric in a wide variety of causes.

In that regard, a retrospective liability verdict is far more damaging than an injunction; the latter at least gives notice of what is prohibited and what is not. The fear of liability for damages, and especially punitive damages, puts the speaker at risk as to what a jury might later decide is a true threat, and how vindictive it might feel towards the speaker and his cause. . . .

While today it is abortion protesters who are singled out for punitive treatment, the precedent set by this court--the broad and uncritical deference to the judgment of a jury--will haunt dissidents of all political stripes for many years to come. Because this is contrary to the principles of the First Amendment as explicated by the Supreme Court in Claiborne Hardware and its long-standing jurisprudence stemming from Brandenburg v. Ohio, I respectfully dissent.


Footnotes to Kozinski's Dissent

2 Although the majority's definition does not specify who is to inflict the threatened harm, use of the active verb "inflict" rather than a passive phrase, such as "will be harmed," strongly suggests that the speaker must indicate he will take an active role in the inflicting. . . .

3 The majority so much as admits that the Nuremberg Files website does not constitute a threat because of the large number of people listed there. The majority does point out that doctors were listed separately, and that the names of doctors who were killed or wounded were stricken or greyed out, but does not explain how this supports the inference that the posting of the website in any way indicated that defendants intended to inflict bodily harm on plaintiffs. At most, the greying out and strikeouts could be seen as public approval of those actions, and approval of past violence by others cannot be made illegal consistent with the First Amendment.

5 Under Brandenburg, advocacy can be made illegal if it amounts to incitement. But incitement requires an immediacy of action that simply does not exist here, which is doubtless why plaintiffs did not premise their claims on an incitement theory.

7 The outcome might be quite different in a case where defendants publish information about plaintiffs that had previously been private and that defendants had obtained unlawfully. Plaintiffs here made no such claim, and we must therefore assume that the information about plaintiffs that was listed on the posters and the website was obtained from public sources.

12 Even then, Dinwiddie is instructive for the restraint it exercised in granting relief. Dinwiddie was not subjected to a crushing and punitive award of damages, and the injunction against her was narrowly drawn and carefully tailored to accommodate her legitimate interests, including her interest in free expression. She was not banned from all speech of a certain kind, but only from speech that expressly violates the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act or is delivered through a bullhorn within 500 feet of an abortion clinic. Dinwiddie, 76 F. 3d at 928-29. The Eighth Circuit emphasized that "[t]he types of activity that the injunction would proscribe are quite narrow," and that Dinwiddie would be free to "carry signs, distribute literature, and speak at a reasonable volume even when she is within 500 feet of an abortion clinic." Id. By contrast, the injunction in our case indefinitely bars defendants from publishing, reproducing, distributing (and even owning) the posters, the website or anything similar, anywhere in the United States. Planned Parenthood, 41 F. Supp. 2d at 1155- 56.


Dissenting opinion of Circuit Judge Reinhardt, with whom Circuit Judges Kozinski, Kleinfeld, and Berzon joined, omitted. 

Dissenting opinion of Circuit Judge Berzon, with whom Circuit Judges Reinhardt, Kozinski, and Kleinfeld joined, and with whom Circuit Judge O'Scannlain joined as to Part III only, omitted.

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