April 04, 2020
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Bangor denies rejection of methadone clinic’s expansion was discriminatory

Nick McCrea | BDN
Nick McCrea | BDN
Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center (right of Quiznos) is located in the Maine Square Mall in Bangor.

BANGOR, Maine — Attorneys for Bangor deny the City Council discriminated against people struggling with addiction when it shot down a methadone clinic’s expansion bid in August.

Attorneys Mark Franco and Michael Buescher of Portland filed a response late Monday in federal court to Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center’s lawsuit alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The city’s answer to the lawsuit argues that attorneys for the treatment center should have filed the suit in state rather than federal court, that the city is in complete compliance with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and that no individual has claimed to have been harmed as a result of the city’s decision.

“[Metro Treatment] cannot establish an injury-in-fact or the probability of a future injury, a causal connection between any purported injury-in-fact and the constitutional violation,” the document filed by Bangor’s attorneys said.

“Further, [Metro Treatment] cannot establish a real and immediate — as opposed to merely conjectural or hypothetical — threat of future injury.”

Attorneys for Metro Treatment filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Bangor about two weeks after the council denied, by a 7-2 vote on Aug. 8, the clinic’s request to increase the patient cap from 300 to 500.

The lawsuit calls on a federal judge to file an injunction overturning the city’s decision, allowing the clinic expansion to move forward. It also calls for the city to pay damages and reimburse legal expenses to compensate the clinic for the city’s “unlawful enforcement” of its ordinance.

Late last Friday, the city’s attorneys also filed its objection to the request for an injunction overturning the council’s decision. The attorneys argued that the cases cited in Metro Treatment’s motion were about zoning issues in cases where municipalities had tried to ban methadone clinics rather than limit an expansion of an existing clinic.

“[Metro Treatment’s] actual claim has nothing to do with zoning,” the objection said. “Rather, [Metro Treatment] takes issue with the City Council’s well-supported factual determination that it had not fulfilled the criteria, namely a demonstrable need for additional patient slots, to increase the number of patients it is licensed to treat at its Bangor facility.

“In other words, [Metro Treatment’s] claim is really that the city should not be allowed to regulate the number of patients being treated at [its] Bangor facility through it licensing process. But plaintiff is wrong. Nothing in the [Americans with Disabilities Act] prohibits the city from licensing and regulating activities at methadone treatment facilities.”

John Doyle, one of the attorneys representing Metro Treatment, said Tuesday that his office is preparing a response to the city’s opposition of the preliminary injunction request.

At the center of this lawsuit is Chapter 93 of Bangor’s Code of Ordinances, which sets rules and regulations for “chemical dependency treatment facilities” in the city. Included in that ordinance is a set of conditions that a methadone clinic must meet before it can increase its capacity. The clinic must prove it has adequate space and staffing, and that treatment is needed in the region and can’t be met without increasing the number of patients in the existing locations. These conditions are not required of any other medical facility, making it discriminatory, the clinic argues.

People suffering from drug addiction have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the lawsuit argues that by treating methadone clinics differently than other medical facilities, the city’s ordinance discriminates against people seeking to recover from addiction.

Most of the councilors who voted against the bid argued the clinic hadn’t proven that the potential patients wouldn’t be better served in other communities. However, throughout the contentious discussions surrounding the issue, councilors raised other concerns.

The debates frequently strayed from the requirements of the city’s ordinance and whether the clinic met the criteria to complaints that Bangor was overburdened by methadone treatment.

Bangor is home to three methadone clinics licensed to serve up to 1,500 patients — more than any other community in the state. City leaders have long advocated for expanding treatment into more rural parts of the state, allowing people to get treatment closer to their homes and spreading out the responsibility for treatment.

BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.

 


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