BANGOR, Maine — The morning after the Bangor City Council denied a methadone clinic’s application to treat more patients, the legal team of the clinic’s parent company began weighing whether to sue the city.
John Doyle, a Maine attorney representing Colonial Management Group, said Tuesday that he is meeting with Rebecca Myers, general counsel for the Orlando, Florida-based methadone treatment company, on Thursday to discuss their options.
“They’ve seen this before, and we’re going to get their guidance on how they want to move forward,” Doyle said, alluding to past legal battles the company has engaged in with towns over their policies and ordinances regarding medication-assisted treatment centers.
The council voted 7-2 Monday night to deny Colonial Management’s application to expand Penobscot Metro’s number of patients from 300 to 500. The company recently had invested $600,000 in its Hogan Road facility in order to accommodate the expansion. The agency also had received the state’s approval to boost its patient numbers.
The bid prompted a contentious debate in the community over the merits of the application and Bangor’s already significant role in providing addiction treatment for the region. Bangor has three methadone clinics licensed to treat a total of 1,500 patients, the same number as Portland, South Portland and Westbrook combined.
Colonial Management could challenge the council’s ruling in state Superior Court, or take the matter to federal court by challenging the legality of the city’s local ordinance that regulates “chemical dependency treatment facilities.”
Locally, Bangor has a Board of Appeals, but that group doesn’t have jurisdiction when it comes to City Council decisions, so Colonial Management can’t appeal to it, according to Bangor City Solicitor Norman Heitmann.
Bangor’s ordinance, in part, requires methadone clinics to seek local approval for an expansion and sets conditions the clinic needs to meet before approval: whether the clinic’s physical space is adequate, whether the clinic has sufficient staffing, whether it meets state and federal guidelines and laws, and whether the need for increased treatment can’t be “reasonably met” without increasing the number of patients at the facility.
Most councilors argued Colonial Management didn’t prove the last point, stating that it should have considered other communities for a clinic, so fewer people had to travel long distances to Bangor for treatment. Colonial Management argued that opening smaller clinics elsewhere would be cost-prohibitive, as other areas in Northern and Eastern Maine wouldn’t have high enough volume of patients, and they already had the Bangor facility ready to treat more patients immediately.
In a July 21 letter to Heitmann, Colonial Management’s attorneys argued that Bangor’s ordinance was discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act because it treats methadone clinics differently from other medical facilities, thus violating the rights of people struggling with addiction — a medical illness.
No other medical facility would be required to meet these requirements and burdens of proof, they argued. For example, a hospital wouldn’t face the same hurdles if it wanted to increase its capacity for dialysis patients. Opponents of the expansion, however, have argued that addiction treatment carries social costs that other forms of medical treatment do not.
The attorneys wrote that Bangor enacted the ordinance with “discriminatory animus” against people coming to Bangor seeking medical treatment for their addiction.
Doyle points to a recent legal spat between CRC Health Group and the town of Warren, where voters approved an ordinance in 2011 that restricted the location of methadone clinics and established 500-foot setbacks from homes, schools, churches, playgrounds, day care centers and libraries. CRC sued, and in 2014, a federal magistrate concluded in his recommended ruling that Warren’s ordinance regulating methadone clinics was discriminatory and violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Warren agreed to a $495,000 settlement with CRC a few months later.
Earlier this year, the tiny town of Monument, Colorado, paid Colonial Management $350,000 to put an end to a lengthy legal dispute that started when the town revoked a treatment center’s business license and then passed a moratorium to prevent any similar facilities from opening, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. The settlement ultimately prevented the opening of the clinic, but at significant cost to the town of 5,000 residents.
Heitmann declined to comment Tuesday on “any matter that could result in litigation,” but he defended the city’s ordinance during a public hearing earlier this month, arguing the 2008 measure had been successfully used to permit a previous treatment expansion at Bangor’s Discovery House.
“It would appear to me that the desired effect of the ordinance, that is local input and local review, and [getting] information to the local government, while at the same time making sure the people that needed this treatment got the treatment — it seems to me it’s worked,” Heitmann said during a meeting earlier this month. “Having been here in 2008 and been involved in that ordinance, I can assure you there was never any discussion, at least in my presence, that sounded in the slightest way anti-drug-addict.”
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.