Settlement conference ordered in methadone clinic lawsuit
Portland — A settlement conference date has been set for the town of Warren and CRC Health Group, the agency that previously wanted to operate a methadone clinic in town but was met with opposition when the clinic plans were made public in 2010.
Earlier this month, a report issued by a federal magistrate judge found the town violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it imposed a moratorium on methadone clinics.
The conference is scheduled for Thursday, May 22 before U.S. Magistrate Judge John C. Nivison and the parties are expected to engage in settlement negotiations.
Warren and CRC Health Group will submit to Nivison on or before May 19 their respective positions on the case. The statements will not be provided to the opposing side and will be sent directly to Nivison's chambers.
Reading the lawsuit, the town argued it enacted the moratorium to give it time to create an ordinance for large facilities due to traffic and safety concerns.
Magistrate Judge John Rich III, who made the recommended ruling in the lawsuit two weeks ago, made 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.
Rich recommended 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 million, 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 St. 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 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 reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at email@example.com.