Tuesday, November 14, 2000|
Abortion clinic continues lease battle in court
By ANGELA POMPONIO
Centre Daily Times
STATE COLLEGE - Attorneys for a State College abortion clinic filed an appeal Monday in Centre County Court, hoping to keep its doors open on Beaver Avenue.
In a Nov. 3 ruling, Centre County Judge Charles C. Brown Jr. ordered The Friendly Corp., operator of State College Medical Services, out of its 477 E. Beaver Ave. office under a "breach" of its lease with the building owner, HFL Corp. Under the order, the abortion clinic would have to move out by next Thursday.
The court battle, which is nearly three years old, landed back in Centre County Court after HFL Corp. filed for motion of summary judgment and the Friendly Corp. requested a cross-motion for summary judgment. In the lawsuit, HFL Corp. argued it had a right to evict The Friendly Corp. because it broke the terms of its lease by subletting its suite to Professional Medical Services Inc., an abortion provider, without the owner's knowledge.
Though Professional Medical Services Inc. moved out under a 1998 court ruling against it, Friendly Corp. remained and is still operating an abortion clinic there under the name State College Medical Services. The company contends it has not violated the lease signed in 1997, and that it is registered to perform abortions with the state Department of Health.
Calls to Dr. Steven Chase Brigham, Friendly Corp.'s president, were not returned Monday, but attorney Julie Gabis of Conshohocken, who represented Friendly Corp., said the appeal should be transferred to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania by today. Meanwhile, she also has asked the court for a "stay," which would allow the clinic to remain open until an appeal is heard.
"(Clinic owners) want to stay in State College very much or they wouldn't be fighting this the way they have been," Gabis said. "They have a very strong commitment to provide services there other than abortion, such as reproductive services for men and women."
Attorney Tim Callahan in Philadelphia said HFL Corp. would also be continuing the battle.
"I would hope that they would move on considering this ruling ... but we will oppose their right to appeal," Callahan said. "(HFL Corp.) feels they have a right to evict the tenant and are pursuing all of their legal rights to do so."
If the appeal ends in eviction for Friendly Corp., Gabis stressed the company will not leave State College so easily.
"If, ultimately, we lose, they would be prepared to find another location," she said. "One way or another, they will continue to provide services in State College."
That's Susan Rogacs' biggest fear. After hearing word of the judge's order, Rogacs, president of Citizens Concerned for Human Life, issued an announcement Monday warning other local businesses that Brigham "may be looking for another site to rent or buy in the area."
The pro-life group has been protesting at the clinic nearly every week since its opening in 1997.
"I'm afraid he's going to do that again," Rogacs said in an interview. "I think there are other businesses in the area that can be tricked again."
Brigham's medical license was revoked in New York and Florida and has said that his Pennsylvania medical license is on "inactive status." He voluntarily forfeited his Pennsylvania license in 1992 to end a state investigation into a clinic he operated in Wyomissing. In 1998, he was convicted of defrauding insurance companies and evading corporate income taxes in Pennsylvania.