Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 29, 2019

Fed. Dist. In PA Denies Motion to Dismiss as to Allegations of Bias and Discriminatory Animus Against Drugs and Alcohol Addiction Outpatient Treatment Facility

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.
Plaintiffs Grace Land II, LLC and Daybreak Treatment Solutions were associated entities providing outpatient treatment services for people suffering from alcohol and drug addiction disorders. Jonathon Goodman was the sole owner of Grace Land and the majority owner of Daybreak. This case arose from Defendants’ refusal to issue a permit for operation of a medical office for Grace Land and Daybreak. Plaintiffs claimed this refusal resulted in constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
As a preliminary matter, Defendants alleged Plaintiffs laced standing to bring claims under either the ADA or the RA. Specifically, Defendants claimed Plaintiffs’ standing was premised on third-party standing and Plaintiffs failed to allege an existing relationship with any individuals who qualify for relief under the ADA or RA. The court found Plaintiffs sufficiently alleged they were denied the Medical Office Application and Building Permit due to their association with potential clients who are individuals with disabilities. Additionally, Plaintiffs took “concrete steps” toward opening a medical facility to help recovering alcohol and drug addicts by purchasing the property and filing the requisite Medical Office Application and Building Permit. Accordingly, the injury to prospective patients was sufficiently imminent to establish standing in this case.
Defendants next contended that because Plaintiffs failed to plead their § 1983 claims because they could not establish an underlying violation of their constitutional rights. Here, the Amended Complaint alleged Defendants denied Plaintiffs’ Medical Office Application and Building Permit because of their bias against recovering alcohol and drug addicts. The court found Plaintiffs’ allegations of bias and discriminatory animus were even more plausible in light of the Bucks County Court issuing its decision reversing Defendants’ denials of the Medical Office Application and the Building Permit. Taking the allegations as true, the court held the Amended Complaint alleged conduct which shocks the conscience, as Defendants’ conduct was allegedly intended to injure Plaintiffs and was done with a complete lack of a legitimate government interest
As to Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim, Defendants claimed Plaintiffs failed to identify another medical facility that Defendants treated differently than Plaintiffs. Other than a bank, the Amended Complaint did not identify any similar medical facilities treated differently than Plaintiffs. As a result, Plaintiffs failed to allege the threshold requirement being similarly situated to other entities, and Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss was granted as to Plaintiffs’ § 1983 equal protection claim.
The court next found that the ZHB was not entitled to absolute immunity and reserved ruling on whether Zoning Officer Scott was entitled to absolute immunity. In reaching this decision, the court noted while it was possible Scott may be entitled to absolute immunity in his individual capacity, the record was not sufficiently developed to make this determination. However, Defendants’ Motion was granted insofar as the ADA claim seeking damages from the Individual Defendants was dismissed, as the Third Circuit held there was generally no individual liability under the ADA. Lastly, since Plaintiffs were still required to prove that the Individual Defendants violated their substantive due process rights, and defendants could still show their decisions were based on their interpretations of the zoning ordinances, the court held the Individual Defendants could reassert their qualified immunity argument at a later date, if necessary. Accordingly, the court denied the Motion as to Plaintiffs’ substantive due process claim against the Individual Defendants in their individual capacities.
Grace Land II, LLC v Bristol Township, 2019 WL 4752026 (ED PA 9/30/2019)

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