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Metro Treatment of Maine, LP v. City of Bangor

United States District Court, D. Maine

November 15, 2016

CITY OF BANGOR, Defendant.



         Plaintiff alleges that the City of Bangor violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act because Chapter 93 of Bangor's Code of Ordinances is discriminatory on its face and because the City Council acted on discriminatory prejudice in denying Plaintiff's permission to expand its methadone clinic. Plaintiff moves for a preliminary injunction, enjoining the City of Bangor from enforcing Chapter 93 against it or ordering the City Council to grant Plaintiff's application for permission to expand the clinic without delay. After an analysis of the preliminary injunction factors, the Court denies the Plaintiff's motion because it has failed to demonstrate irreparable harm to itself or its clients.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         On August 23, 2016, Metro Treatment of Maine, LP d/b/a Penobscot County Metro Treatment Center (Penobscot Metro) filed a complaint against the city of Bangor (Bangor) alleging discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. Compl. (ECF No. 1). On the same day, Penobscot Metro moved for a preliminary injunction, Mot. for Prelim. Inj. (ECF No. 3) (Pl.'s Mot.), and for expedited consideration of that motion. Pl.'s Mot. for Expedited Consideration (ECF No. 4). In its motion for expedited consideration, Penobscot Metro asked for an expedited briefing schedule and an expedited hearing. Id. at 1. The Court held a telephone conference on September 1, 2016. Min. Entry (ECF No. 10). As it turned out that neither Penobscot Metro nor Bangor was requesting a hearing, the Court denied the motion to expedite a hearing that would not take place. Order (ECF No. 11). The Court did, however, set an expedited briefing schedule. Id. On September 16, 2016, Bangor objected to Penobscot Metro's motion for preliminary injunction. Def.'s Obj. to Pl.'s Mot. for Prelim. Inj. (ECF No. 13) (Def.'s Opp'n). Penobscot Metro replied to Bangor's objections on September 21, 2016. Pl.'s Reply in Supp. of Mot. for Prelim. Inj. (ECF No. 16) (Pl.'s Reply).

         B. The Allegations in the Complaint

         Penobscot Metro is a limited partnership that operates a methadone treatment clinic in Bangor, Maine. Compl. ¶ 2. Methadone clinics provide treatment to patients recovering from addiction to legal prescription opiates and illegal drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl. Id. ¶ 6. This treatment includes behavioral therapy or counseling and the administration of methadone in controlled doses under strict medical supervision. Id. ¶¶ 7, 8.

         Methadone clinics must obtain two types of licenses from the state of Maine: 1) a license from the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services of the Department of Health and Human Services, and 2) a license from the Pharmacy Board. Id. ¶ 9. Under federal law, methadone clinics are regulated by the Drug Enforcement Agency and must follow guidelines and rules prescribed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Authority. Id. ¶ 10.

         Penobscot Metro is licensed by the state of Maine to provide methadone treatment to 300 patients. Id. ¶ 12. Penobscot Metro claims that as of August 1, 2016, it had a waitlist of over 170 additional people who wish to receive methadone treatment, and that it gets daily calls from individuals who desire treatment inquiring whether they can be served. Id. ¶¶ 12, 13.

         Because there are more people seeking methadone treatment in the Bangor area than available methadone-clinic spaces to serve them, Penobscot Metro decided to expand its facility. Id. ¶ 14. In March of 2016, Penobscot Metro completed construction of upgrades and improvements needed to accommodate 200 additional patients, for a total of 500 patients. Id. ¶ 15. That same month, the Bangor Code Enforcement Office issued Certificates of Occupancy documenting that Penobscot Metro had met applicable building code requirements. Id. Penobscot Metro has obtained all state certifications and licenses it needs to operate a clinic that serves 500 patients and has met the requirements of federal law. Id. ¶ 16. All that remains for Penobscot Metro to serve a total of 500 patients is for Bangor to sign off on the expansion. Id.

         In June of 2016, Penobscot Metro applied to the Bangor City Council for approval of the expansion pursuant to Chapter 93 of the Bangor Code of Ordinances. Id. ¶ 17. Chapter 93 bars the establishment of “chemical dependency treatment facilities . . . that provide methadone maintenance treatment” in the city of Bangor. Id. ¶ 18 (quoting Bangor, Me., Code ch. 93, § 93-1 (2005) (Code)). Chapter 93 also bars existing facilities from expanding. Id. ¶ 19 (citing Code § 93-2). However, Chapter 93 does permit existing facilities to “apply to the City for a license to increase the number of patients that it may treat at its existing facility” if five conditions are met:

A. The property is adequate to accommodate the proposed increase, including providing sufficient interior space to avoid patient queuing on sidewalks, parking area, and other areas outside of the facility;
B. The treatment program is able to hire and retain adequate numbers of qualified staff to meet applicable state and federal standards of care;
C. The applicant has demonstrated a need for increased services that cannot be reasonably met except by the increase in the permitted number of patients at its existing location;
D. The applicant is in compliance with all state or federal laws, rules or regulations regarding its opioid treatment program; and
E. The applicant is in compliance will [sic] all City codes and ordinances.

Id. ¶ 20 (quoting Code § 93-5). Section 93-6 further provides that “the City Council may consider the geographic locations of patients and potential patients and may deny the application if it determines that there is sufficient patient demand to warrant a treatment facility in an area geographically closer to current and potential future patients.” Id. ¶ 22 (quoting Code § 93-6). Penobscot Metro alleges that at hearings held on August 1 and 8, 2016, it demonstrated to the City Council that the five conditions under section 93-5 had been met. Id. ¶ 21. It further alleges that the Council did not make a determination based on the geographic location of patients and potential patients under section 93-6. Id. ¶ 22.

         While Penobscot Metro's application for permission to expand under Chapter 93 was pending, the City Council received emails from Bangor residents that Penobscot Metro claims “demonstrated discriminatory prejudice against recovering drugs addicts based on the false premise and stereotype that methadone clinic patients are criminals who disrupt communities where methadone clinics are located.” Id. ¶ 23.

         At a July 11 meeting of the City Council, Councilors David Nealley and Benjamin Sprague voiced concerns about what they believed would happen if Penobscot Metro expanded. Id. ¶ 29. Penobscot Metro claims that “[w]hile citizens and city councilors expressed the view that the location or expansion of a methadone clinic in a city causes crime to increase or other negative consequences, no facts or empirical evidence to that effect were presented to the City Council.” Id. ¶ 30. Penobscot Metro alleges that on the contrary, it presented evidence to the City Council that the location or expansion of a methadone clinic in a city actually causes crime to decrease. Id. ¶¶ 31, 32.

         In July of 2016, Penobscot Metro wrote to the City Solicitor advising him that recovering drugs addicts are covered by the ADA, that Chapter 93 violates the ADA on its face by singling out methadone clinics for discriminatory treatment, and that a decision to deny expansion would also violate the ADA. Id. ¶ 34. On August 8, 2016, the City Council voted 7 to 2 to deny permission for Penobscot Metro to expand; those who voted against the expansion explained that they did so because they questioned the need for additional methadone treatment slots in Bangor. Id. ¶¶ 35, 36. Penobscot Metro claims that the evidence in the record shows that additional slots were needed. Id. ¶ 37. It also states that “[r]ecovering drug addicts who are unable to obtain methadone treatment are at grave risk of returning to illegal drug use and experiencing severe adverse health consequences such as illness, permanent disability, and death.” Id. ¶ 38.


         A. The Plaintiff's Motion

         Penobscot Metro claims it satisfies the first factor of the preliminary injunction analysis and is likely to succeed on the merits because “(1) Chapter 93 violates the ADA on its face, and (2) even if it did not, the City acted on discriminatory prejudice in denying Penobscot Metro a permit to expand.” Pl.'s Mot. at 9. Penobscot Metro states that the ADA is a federal civil rights statute designed to protect disabled individuals against discrimination by public entities or federal fund recipients based on their disabilities. Id. It says that Bangor is subject to both the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, which are analyzed under the same standards, because it is a public entity and a recipient of federal funds. Id. at 10. It states that individuals participating in drug rehabilitation programs are qualified individuals with disabilities protected by the statutes. Id. at 10-11. Penobscot Metro further claims it has standing to sue on behalf of its patients. Id. at 11-12.

         Penobscot Metro argues that Chapter 93 discriminates against recovering drug addicts on its face “by expressly proscribing the establishment or expansion of ‘chemical dependency treatment facilities . . . that provide methadone maintenance treatment' in the City.” Id. at 12 (quoting Code § 93-1). Citing caselaw, Penobscot Metro claims that an ordinance cannot single out methadone clinics for different procedures or adverse treatment. Id. at 12-13. It argues that because Chapter 93 “places obstacles in the path of anyone who seeks to open or expand a methadone clinic” that do not apply to other healthcare providers or businesses, it violates the ADA. Id. at 13.

         Penobscot Metro additionally argues that Bangor's decision to deny Penobscot Metro a permit violated the ADA because it was based on “discriminatory prejudice.” Id. It contends that “[w]hile city councilors who voted against the expansion claimed to be doing so because they questioned the need for additional methadone treatment slots in Bangor, the evidence in the record did not support that concern.” Id. at 14. Penobscot Metro notes that “Bangor residents had submitted numerous public comments to the City Council and testified at the hearings expressing the view that methadone clinic patients disrupt communities where clinics are located by engaging in criminal activity.” Id. It argues that these concerns are not supported by evidence, but are based on stereotypes and prejudice against recovering drug addicts. Id.

         Citing caselaw, Penobscot Metro argues that “[a] municipality must demonstrate an objectively legitimate basis for discrimination” and that “[g]eneralized perceptions about disabilities and unfounded speculations about threats to safety are specifically rejected as grounds to justify exclusion.” Id. (citing CRC Health Grp., Inc. v. Town of Warren, No. 2:11-cv-196-DBH, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76239, at *39 (D. Me. Apr. 1, 2014)). Penobscot Metro claims that there is unmet demand for methadone treatment and that it demonstrated that it met the conditions for expansion; it argues that “[t]he explanation for the City Council's decision is therefore clear: it acted based on discriminatory prejudice to keep recovering drug addicts out of Bangor.” Id. at 14-15.

         Finally, as to the first factor, Penobscot Metro notes that the ADA does not apply if a defendant can demonstrate a significant risk to the health or safety of others, but claims that expanding the clinic would pose no such risk. Id. at 15-17.

         Penobscot Metro argues that the second factor for a preliminary injunction is satisfied because “[r]ecovering drug addicts who wish to receive methadone treatment are experiencing irreparable harm while Penobscot Metro is prevented from expanding to serve them.” Id. at 17. Penobscot Metro asserts that “[g]iven the strength of [its] showing on the likelihood-of-success-on-the-merits prong of the preliminary injunction analysis, its burden to establish irreparable harm if injunctive relief is not granted is lessened.” Id. (citing EEOC v. Astra USA, Inc., 94 F.3d 738, 743 (1st Cir. 1996)). But, it claims, it can establish irreparable harm even without the benefit of this sliding scale. Id. at 18. It argues that in evaluating this prong courts have looked to the harm sustained by a clinic's patients. Id. Additionally, it argues that when a defendant violates a civil rights statute, courts “will presume that the plaintiff has suffered irreparable injury from the fact of the defendant's violation.” Id. at 18-19 (collecting cases). It claims that “[r]ecovering drug addicts who are unable to obtain methadone treatment are at grave risk of returning to illegal drug use and experiencing severe illness, permanent disability, and even death” and that “[g]iven the substantial unmet need for opiate addiction treatment in Bangor, the number of prospective patients who stand to suffer harm is significant.” Id. at 19.

         Penobscot Metro argues that it satisfies the third factor for a preliminary injunction because the balance of harms weighs in favor of an injunction. Id. Specifically, it argues that the harm would be severe to recovering drug addicts if Penobscot Metro were not permitted to proceed, whereas the requested relief “would simply require the City to let Penobscot Metro treat more patients.” Id. It further contends that any concerns about increased crime are speculative. Id.

         Finally, Penobscot Metro argues that it satisfies the fourth prong because a preliminary injunction would serve the public interest. Id. In particular, Penobscot Metro claims that the public will be served by “helping recovering drug addicts to overcome their addiction, avoid ...

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