Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 2, 2018

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Finds no ADA or Rehabilitation Act violations in Relation to Methadone Clinic’s Permit Denials

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

A Sixth Circuit case decided in February granted summary judgment and dismissed federal discrimination claims regarding the denial of state and local permits for a proposed methadone clinic in Johnson City, Tennessee.

The zoning ordinances at issue limited methadone clinics to areas zoned MS-1, imposed a 200 foot setback from schools, day-cares, and parks, and required frontage on an arterial street. The city also required prior approval of a “certificate of need” from the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency, which involved a comprehensive review of various criteria, including local zoning compliance. The plaintiff, Tri-Cities Holding, alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act after its state permit approval was denied, naming both the city and the state health department as defendants.

Tri-Cities’ challenges to the city ordinances were dismissed on the merits in a previous Sixth Circuit decision. Although it didn’t appeal that decision, Tri-Cities offered an alternative argument in this case and claimed that the city had also violated the ADA by interfering with its efforts to obtain a certificate of need from the state health services agency. The court found this argument to be problematic, however, because state law specifically provided for the city’s participation in the process for obtaining permit approval from the Health Services and Development Agency. Additionally, contrary to Tri-Cities’ contentions, the city was not devoid of its First Amendment rights to express nondiscriminatory views during the state permitting process.

The court also found that summary judgment was proper because there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the city’s zoning or its participation in the state agency review had been motivated by an intent to thwart Tri-Cities’ application, rather than by legitimate government interests affected by the siting of methadone clinics. Moreover, the plaintiff’s certificate of need had been denied because its application was incomplete, not because of any zoning issues, and perhaps most importantly, the hearing record failed support the plaintiff’s claims of “wide-spread community animus” against opioid-addicted persons.

Tri-Cities also argued that the denial of its application by the Health Services and Development Agency should have been subject to the ADA’s reasonable accommodation requirement. The agency, however, was required to apply neutral statutory criteria on applications for health care facilities, and the court found that any waiver or alteration of these statutory obligations would jeopardize “Tennessee’s interest in ensuring that healthcare institutions meet the nondiscriminatory qualifications that its legislators and regulators have set.”

Tri-Cities Holdings LLC v. Tennessee Administrative Procedures Division, 2018 WL 1100316 (6th Cir. 2/28/18).

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