Judge: Warren’s ordinance to limit methadone clinics violates federal law

Posted April 08, 2014, at 2:53 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A federal judge has issued a report that concludes an ordinance adopted by Warren to regulate methadone clinics was discriminatory and violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The company that waged a multiyear unsuccessful battle to open a methadone clinic in Warren could now seek damages for being blocked in its efforts. One of the potential expert witnesses called by the company that aimed to open the clinic, CRC Health Group Inc. and CRC Recovery Inc., estimated the firm’s lost income could have been as great as $4.4 million.

Magistrate John Rich III issued his recommended ruling April 1 in U.S. District Court in Portland. In his report, the magistrate rejected Warren’s motion to exclude the lost profit estimates by retired economics professor Allan Feldman.

Attorney Sigmund Schutz of Portland, who represents Warren, said the town has until April 15 to determine whether to contest Rich’s recommended ruling.

Schutz said the town had other reasons to regulate methadone clinics, such as concerns about traffic from the project. He said the town would contest the amount of damages incurred by CRC Recovery if the matter goes to trial.

Attorney James Green of Palm Beach, Fla., who represents CRC, said Tuesday that the magistrate’s determination that the town ordinance was discriminatory was an important ruling.

The case could go to trial but Green said that he had a conversation last week with Schutz on whether settlement talks could be rekindled. Schutz declined to comment on whether there would be new settlement talks.

The April 1 ruling came in the case originally filed by CRC against Warren in May 2011. CRC filed its lawsuit after residents in December 2010 adopted a moratorium on methadone clinics to allow the town time to develop regulations.

Residents in August 2011 adopted a new ordinance that restricted where methadone clinics could be located and established 500-foot setbacks from homes, schools, churches, playgrounds, day-care centers and libraries.

The issue arose in September 2010 when developer Bob Emery of Vixen Land Holdings Inc. tried to purchase the former Warren Primary School from Warren, telling officials it would be rented as office space. When townspeople learned that CRC planned to use the property for a methadone clinic, the town rescinded its purchase and sales agreement with Emery.

CRC cited the closure of the Turning Tide clinic in nearby Rockland, less than 8 miles away, as evidence of demand for a new methadone clinic in the area.

Emery and the town settled his legal claims when voters agreed in November 2013 to sell the former school and give 60 percent of the money to Emery. The building was sold to the Warren Baptist Church for $100,500 at an auction held in January.

CRC and the town had earlier appeared to reach a settlement in September 2011 when the town agreed to pay the company $1 and the town’s insurance company would pay the remaining $320,000 in damages in exchange for agreeing to review the project and adopt if it met the law.

The Warren Planning Board approved the project in June 2012 but neighbors to the proposed clinic at the intersection of Route 1 and Short Street filed an appeal before the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. The Warren Sanitary District also had not given its approval for a permit for the clinic.

The settlement was scuttled when the approval did not occur within the deadline set in the agreement. CRC then asked the federal court to put the lawsuit back on its schedule. Since the fall of 2012, the federal court has been considering motions filed by both sides.

The proposed clinic has divided the town. Four planning board members resigned in 2012 after it granted approval to the project.

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