Warren to pay CRC Health Group $495,000

By Juliette Laaka | May 23, 2014

Portland — The four-year legal battle between the town of Warren and CRC Heath Group, a methadone treatment provider, ended May 22, resulting in the municipality paying nearly a half million dollars to the agency.

CRC Health Group previously wanted to operate a methadone clinic in town, but was met with opposition when the clinic plans were made public in 2010. In addition to the town's insurance company paying $495,000, the agreement stipulates Warren will also withdraw its rejection to the decision on summary judgement, which is significant as it establishes the municipality violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Walt McKee, attorney for CRC.

Elaine Clark, the town manager of Warren, said the municipality is ecstatic with the settlement, and the resolution of the long-running legal matter.

"We feel that the courts and this settlement have reinforced the fact that towns and municipalities cannot discriminate against those in recovery. Moratoriums and other ordinances that are clearly designed to keep those in recovery out are not legal and there are financial consequences for such discriminatory behavior. We would have preferred to have opened a clinic to serve those patients in need. CRC has an obligation to stand up for those who need treatment to ensure that they have a place to get treatment," said CRC's general counsel Pam Burke.

In April, 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.

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 wrote

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 $1.2 million, according to the magistrate's report.

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.

Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at jlaaka@villagesoup.com.

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