Federal judge denies motion for Warren to settle lawsuit over methadone clinic
Portland — A federal judge on Sept. 18 denied a motion from the town of Warren to enforce settlement in the case of a proposed methadone clinic.
U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby wrote in his finding that the town has not yet satisfied a critical condition of a settlement agreement.
"The decision was well reasoned and what we expected," Walter McKee, attorney for CRC Health Group Inc. and CRC Recovery Inc., wrote in an email to The Courier-Gazette.
Warren Town Manager Grant Watmough said, "Obviously, we're a little disappointed."
"We've got to continue the zoning board review process," he added, referring to the zoning board's appellate review of the planning board's 3-2 decision to allow the clinic.
Lawyers for CRC and the town argued before Hornby in U.S. District Court Monday, Sept. 17, on the motion.
The federal lawsuit started out as a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act arising out of CRC's efforts to obtain the necessary permits to open a methadone clinic in town.
CRC has said that methadone clinics are land uses for people in active recovery from substance abuse. Patients are considered people with disabilities under the ADA, and therefore are a protected class.
Named as intervenors in the suit are Robert Emery, owner of the building CRC plans to use, and Emery's company Vixen Land Holdings. The town is the defendant.
The parties had previously negotiated a tentative settlement agreement under which CRC would abandon plans for a former elementary school in town and the town agreed to grant the needed permits.
Hornby wrote that the court delayed proceedings several times to permit the settlement agreement to be put into practice.
The town says now it has met all the requirements of the settlement agreement, and argues the underlying lawsuit should be dismissed.
Hornby said the dispute involves the meaning of the settlement agreement's terms and the roles of town entities.
The town argues that the planning board has given its final written approval of CRC's new site application, and therefore the lawsuit must end, with CRC receiving a cash settlement of $320,000 provided by the agreement, and the liability releases of the agreement becoming effective, Hornby wrote.
If the town approves the clinic, the town agrees to pay CRC $320,000 within 30 days of final written approval.
"If we elect to return to the litigation then the insurance carrier that was going to pay the money will keep it. For now," McKee said in an email.
The planning board's decision is subject to appeal under the site plan review provisions of the town's zoning ordinance and the recently enacted large facilities portion of the ordinance.
The town has not yet provided final written approval, which will occur only if and when the board of appeals acts favorably, Hornby wrote.
He found that the board of appeals and the planning board act on behalf of the town. "Until they both have approved the application, the town has not acted finally," he wrote.
He said the planning board's decision is not a final town decision. While the town has argued that the agreement did not allow enough time for the planning board and board of appeals review — and that might be true, he added — it does not change the clear language of the agreement.
The language of the settlement agreement is clear, Hornby wrote. The town's final written approval has not yet occurred. There is no basis to enforce settlement that would result in the termination of the lawsuit, he ruled.
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, and email@example.com.