Magistrate: Town fight against methadone clinic violated ADAClinic operator claims lost profits up to $4.4 million
Warren — A report issued by a Federal Magistrate Judge finds that the town of Warren violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it imposed a moratorium on methadone clinics. However, the lawsuit between the town and CRC Health Group is not over, according to town officials.
Town Manager Elaine Clark said the town has until April 15 to file an objection to the findings in the report. The court finding is part of the procedural motions being decided by the court leading up to the case going to trial.
Clark said it is possible the town and CRC might settle before it goes to trial.
"Overall, the summary judgment motions were favorable to CRC," she said in an email April 8. "Warren is currently considering objecting to portions of the order."
"This round of motions was not about damages, but rather resulted in findings that: CRC's prospective clients were disabled for purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and that the town's moratorium was enacted for reasons other than legitimate safety concerns," she continued. "The magistrate recommended 'that the court grant CRC's motion for summary judgment as to the town's liability for violation of Title II of the ADA.'"
The town has argued it enacted the moratorium to give it time to create an ordinance for large facilities due to traffic and safety concerns.
The magistrate makes note of public comments at meetings concerning the issue.
"This evidence does not undermine CRC's evidence that there was vocal public opposition to the siting of a methadone clinic in the town, that the opposition centered on the fact that CRC proposed to serve drug addicts, and that, on short notice, the town convened a special town meeting to consider the enactment of a moratorium on methadone clinics," he writes.
The magistrate went on to recommend to the court that CRC has legal standing to sue for lost profits. The town argued that CRC's expert testimony on lost profits should be excluded.
At one point, CRC had estimated its lost profits as being up to $4.4 million. That amount was later amended to $1,253,000, according to the magistrate's report.
However, the town manager confirmed it is not over. "CRC will still need to prove its case at trial and the issue of CRC's damages or lost profits will need to be established at trial."
The town's legal battle over the proposed methadone clinic goes back to the fall of 2010, when businessman Robert Emery, operating as Vixen Land Holdings, LLC, applied for a permit from the planning board for business and professional offices in the former elementary school at 44 School Street in Warren. Emery was to serve as CRC's landlord in the project.
Not knowing the project was a methadone clinic, the planning board approved it, only to rescind that approval once it learned it was a clinic.
In December 2010, townspeople approved a 180-day moratorium on methadone clinics, giving the town time to work on its "Large Facilities Ordinance." CRC has argued the moratorium and the ordinance are discriminatory. Those seeking help for drug and alcohol addiction are protected under the ADA.
The town and CRC reached a settlement in 2011, but that fell apart after CRC was unable to get its permit to operate a clinic at Emery's building on Route 1.
"The town, its attorney, and the insurer's attorney, have until April 15 to decide whether to object to all or a portion of the magistrate's recommended decision," Clark said. "If objections are filed, they will be heard by a federal district court judge. If objections are not filed, the magistrate's recommendation will be adopted by the district court. Trial has not yet been scheduled."
The town has liability insurance, which will offset costs to the town should the court award damages to CRC. The town's attorney is Bill Kelly and town's insurance company attorney is Sigmund Schultz of PretiFlaherty.
Courier Publications News Director Daniel Dunkle can be reached at email@example.com or 594-4401 ext. 122.
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast since 1998.