Zoning Laws & Methadone Treatment

Though drug addiction is legally recognized as a disability, discrimination against people suffering from addiction is extremely common.

In 1999, Pennsylvania passed a law that banned methadone treatment facilities from being placed within 500 feet of any school, public playground, public park, residential housing area, child-care facility, church, meetinghouse, or other community facility without specific approval from local government. Unsurprisingly, the law essentially banned methadone treatment facilities from locating anywhere other than industrial, inaccessible, or dangerous areas, making it nearly impossible for many people to access treatment they desperately needed.

We brought a lawsuit in 2004 on behalf of a methadone treatment provider, New Directions Treatment Services, which had been prevented from opening a facility in Reading, Pa., as well as residents with opiate addiction and in need of treatment. After the district court dismissed the case, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the dismissal and struck down the Pennsylvania statute in 2007.

Current Litigation: RHJ Medical Center

Still, local governments regularly discriminate against people with drug addiction and treatment providers with impunity.

We currently serve as co-counsel in RHJ Medical Center v. City of Dubois, challenging DuBois’ attempt to prevent RHJ from opening a methadone clinic in the city. After the Third Circuit overturned the Pennsylvania methadone restrictions in the New Directions case, Dubois continued to fight RHJ. The city even passed a zoning ordinance specifically prohibiting methadone treatment centers from the area in which RHJ had already leased property.

RHJ brought suit against the City of DuBois on six counts under the Fourteenth Amendment, the American Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act.  The district court held the ordinance was unconstitutional and RHJ was entitled to damages as a result of DuBois’ equal protection violation.  However, the court determined RHJ lacked standing regarding the ADA and RA claims.  RHJ appealed the issue of standing to the Third Circuit.

Case Updates

Attorney Fees Awarded

More than $270,000 in attorney fees was awarded to the RHJ Medical Center in a case that struck down the city of Dubois’ zoning restriction of a methadone clinic.

RHJ originally sought $455,000 in attorney fees, but U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson of the Western District of Pennsylvania cut the amount initially requested by 40 percent. McGuireWoods LLP is graciously donating its attorney fees to the Law Center.

Gibson said, “RHJ challenged two pieces of legislation under multiple legal theories, which resulted in this court invalidating one piece of legislation and awarding damages to RHJ. Thus, a 40 percent reduction is appropriate based upon the fact that, overall, the actual success achieved outweighs the lack of success on certain claims.”

Click here to read the attorney fees opinion.

Third Circuit Reply Brief Filed

The attorneys at McGuire Woods filed a reply brief on behalf of the RHJ Medical Center in their case against the City of Dubois. The original claim by RHJ, a methadone treatment center, asserted that the City of Dubois illegally and unconstitutionally applied zoning ordinances to prevent the center’s operations.

The reply brief contends that the City of DuBois failed to provide any support for the District Court’s previous incorrect determinations. Therefore, the attorneys at McGuire Woods seek for the Court of appeals to reverse the decision of the District Court entering judgment in favor of the City on RHJ’s claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. In addition, the reply brief argues that the case should be remanded to the District Court for entry of judgment in favor of RHJ.

Click here to read the full reply brief.

Appeal Filed in Third Circuit

In a brief filed by attorneys at McGuire Woods, our clients argued that, although the district court ruled in their favor about the unconstitutional discrimination, it erred when it found that RHJ did not have standing to bring claims on behalf of the patients it served and also that RHJ failed to mitigate damages.

Court Concludes Ordinance is Unconstitutional and RHJ is Entitled to Damages

On August 17, 2012, after a bench trial, the Court entered judgment in favor of RHJ finding that RHJ was entitled to $132,801.64 in damages as a result of DuBois’ equal protection violation.  Furthermore, the Court declared the ordinance unconstitutional, and thus, null and void.  RHJ is also entitled to reasonable attorneys fees.  Judgment was awarded to DuBois on the remaining claims brought under the ADA and RA because the Court concluded RHJ lacked standing.  RHJ appealed the Court’s decision regarding standing.

Both Parties Filed Partial Motions for Summary Judgment; Motions Denied and Case Proceeds to Trial

Both parties filed motions for partial summary judgment on October 27, 2011. RHJ argued it is entitled to summary judgment on liability for all six causes of action brought under the ADA, RA, and Fourteenth Amendment because RHJ has proved the elements necessary for standing, there is no dispute that the City is a qualifying entity under the ADA and RA, and the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates the City’s animus toward Plaintiff, which constitutes discriminatory intent.  The Court denied both motions and the case proceeded to trial because there were “countless issues of disputed material fact that cannot be resolved prior to trial.” The bench trial was scheduled to commence February 21, 2012.

Judge Rules RHJ Has Standing to Sue for Discrimination

Judge Kim Gibson of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled on December 7, 2010 that RHJ has standing to sue the City of DuBois for discriminatory practices. The court denied the city’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, relying heavily on the Third Circuit’s opinion in the Law Center’s successful New Directions lawsuit.

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