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Reilly v. City of Harrisburg - 858 F.3d 173 (3d Cir. 2017)


To obtain a preliminary injunction the moving party must show as a prerequisite (1) a reasonable probability of eventual success in the litigation, and (2) that it will be irreparably injured if relief is not granted. In addition, the district court, in considering whether to grant a preliminary injunction, should take into account, when they are relevant, (3) the possibility of harm to other interested persons from the grant or denial of the injunction, and (4) the public interest. A district court—in its sound discretion—should balance those four factors so long as the party seeking the injunction meets the threshold on the first two.


The City of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, issued an ordinance that prohibits persons to "knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 20 feet from any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway of a health care facility" to promote the health and welfare of residents and visitors as well as the health and welfare of those who may wish to voice their constitutionally protected speech outside of such health care facilities. Plaintiffs are individuals purporting to provide "sidewalk counseling" to those entering abortion clinics by way of leafletting, prayer, and conversation in attempts to dissuade patients from getting abortions. Plaintiffs argue that the ordinance creates unconstitutional "buffer zones" that render impossible their ability to engage effectively in counseling. They claim that the ordinance violates their First Amendment rights to speak freely, exercise their religion, and assemble, as well as their Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights. As noted, they also sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin enforcement of the ordinance. Plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance. The city court denied their request for an injunction.


Was the city court’s denial of plaintiffs' request for an injunction to enjoin enforcement of the ordinance proper?




Where plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin enforcement of a city ordinance, which they alleged violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, the district court erred in placing the burden of demonstrating the likelihood of success on the merits on plaintiffs because, in First Amendment cases, the burden rested with the city. That was not done here, as the District Court applied the usual standard of placing the burden on Plaintiffs.

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