Attorney threatens community, officials with lawsuit to force methadone clinic

Posted Jan. 04, 2011, at 10:17 p.m.

WARREN, Maine — The attorney for a methadone clinic that wants to move into town has threatened to sue the community and local officials for discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Recently, the town’s selectboard enacted a temporary moratorium against methadone clinics while it writes zoning regulations regarding the industry. But in a Dec. 27 letter to the town’s attorney, CRC Health Group Inc.’s lawyer wrote that the moratorium was spawned “in response to vocal community prejudice against people in recovery from opiate addiction” and violates federal law.

CRC’s attorney warned that “the town’s enactment of the moratorium constitutes unlawful discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act, thereby subjecting it to significant liability and exposure to considerable damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.”

However, Warren’s attorney, Patrick Mellor, responded, noting that the company has no legal standing to sue the town.

“If [Mellor] wants to bank hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of taxpayer dollars on that, he can,” CRC attorney James Green countered in a phone interview Tuesday. “That’s why we have courts.”

According to Guy Cousins, director of Maine’s office of Substance Abuse, CRC Health Group Inc. has filed an application with the state to provide service in Warren. All pieces of the application have been passed in — except one.

“The last step of the approval is a facility walkthrough,” Cousins said Tuesday.

The town’s actions, however, have put a hold on that walkthrough, without which the clinic cannot receive its license to operate.

According to Cousins, it’s normal for ADA arguments to arise after a town puts a moratorium against substance abuse treatment centers. Other communities have backed down against such threats and no such case has gone to court yet that he is aware of.

The moratorium against methadone clinics in Warren was put in place shortly after Bob Emery and his company Vixen Land Holdings signed a purchase agreement with the town to buy a former elementary school building on School Street to rent it out for office space.

Soon, word spread around town that a methadone clinic would be operating out of the building. The town’s planning board then rescinded its approval for Emery to turn the school into office space and residents in December voted to enact a six-month moratorium against methadone clinics.

CRC’s attorney asserts that the Warren planning board’s revocation of Emery’s permit is in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The town’s attorney responded, “if you have any information that would suggest that Vixen Land Holdings LLC is somehow an agent on behalf of CRC Health Group Inc., please provide the same and I will reassess my opinion accordingly.”

Vixen Land Holding’s owner Emery has said several times in public meetings that he had no formal agreement with CRC Health Group, but acknowledged at a Dec. 2 public meeting that the methadone clinic did intend to rent from him.

After the planning board took back its approval, Emery’s lawyer also told the town that the issue would likely end up in court.

As of Tuesday, no complaints had been filed in the Knox County courts or in the U.S. District Court.

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