Elgin settles federal lawsuit over mobile ultrasound unit use
The city of Elgin has reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed by The Life Center, Inc., that allows the group to provide free, mobile ultrasound services and pregnancy tests for women at two city locations.
The city also will pay $280,000 of TLC's attorney fees after the group sued in March 2013 after the city shut down TLC's mobile units in fall 2012.
"We are relieved that a settlement has been reached with the city of Elgin. Our main concern was always having the freedom to park TLC's ultrasound mobile unit in Elgin where the need is greatest," said TLC Executive Director Vivian Maly in a prepared statement. "We now look ahead to serving the women and families in our community with the support of the leadership in the city of Elgin."
Added TLC attorney Noel Sterett: "Pregnant women are better served when they are fully informed."
TLC, a faith-based organization that promotes "pro-life issues, the family and Christian living," began providing free weekly ultrasound services from a mobile facility parked at JB's Pub, 297 S. McLean Blvd., and the Evangelical Free Church of Elgin, 1900 Big Timber Road, in September 2010.
In fall 2012, city officials ordered TLC to stop, saying use of the mobile unit broke a city law that classified it as a temporary use for up to four days a calendar year.
City officials said their new zoning laws were not directed at TLC, but the group sued. Federal Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan ruled in the group's favor last August, saying the city's code was unduly burdensome.
City of Elgin Corporation Counsel William Cogley said attorneys from both sides were scheduled this past Tuesday to have oral arguments on the appeal. Instead, the two sides reached an agreement last week to settle, with the city drawing up new language for intermittent, temporary vehicle uses for mobile units owned by nonprofit groups.
Basically, the changes, which the city hopes to approve in 30 to 45 days, will allow TLC to operate its mobile ultrasound unit one day a week, up to eight hours a day, at the two locations, Cogley said. The new ordinance will not charge nonprofits any permit fees and could apply to, say, a mobile blood bank.
Cogley said that as part of the settlement, the August ruling by Der-Yeghiayan was vacated.
"We settled for a number of reasons. No. 1, we reached terms we found to be compatible with the city and TLC moving forward," Cogley said. "We thought it was in the best interests of the city and taxpayers to settle. There would have been a continuing expense to both sides if we continued to litigate."
A city-issued statement also reinforced the city's position that its laws are "fair, impartial and lawful."
"The city also has maintained throughout this matter that no member of the city council or city staff targeted TLC's mobile facility or attempted to shut down their services. The facts and evidence support this assertion," the city said.