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Methadone clinic attorney fights back

March 10th, 2014 9:51 pm by Gary B. Gray

Methadone clinic attorney fights back

An Atlanta attorney representing a methadone clinic turned away by Johnson City’s Board of Zoning Appeals last year continues to fight in court for a company he claims can help battle an “apocalyptic” epidemic in the area.

In March 2013, the Board of Zoning Appeals denied Steve Kester, co-owner of Tri-Cities Holdings, a variance to locate a clinic at 4 Wesley Court. A few months later, the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency denied Kester a certificate of need.

Attorney James Dunlap filed suit last year in federal court in Greeneville on behalf of Tri-Cities Holdings claiming Johnson City’s refusal to grant a permit for the clinic caused financial damage and forced opiate-addicted residents to travel unnecessary distances to seek treatment. The suit also alleged Johnson City and the THSDA were violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Though he continues litigation in federal court, he also has requested that a state administrative officer’s review of the THSDA denial be put on hold.

“The elephant in the room is the slaughter occurring in this area to addiction to opiates for a decade,” he said. “This community has blocked standard-of-care treatment. We are asking that the state administrative process not go forward, pending a decision in federal court. We should not even have to be going through this process, because it’s illegal to not immediately grant a reasonable modification to allow them to locate in Johnson City.”

Dunlap represents the company and eight Johnson City residents and says the state agency faces “certain loss” in the federal court trial level.

“All of our gyrations revolve around whether Johnson City should have a treatment center, and Johnson City is the epicenter of an opiate epidemic,” he said. “One hundred percent of opiate-addicted pregnant women are not getting treatment. Even given that fact, Johnson City and the state won’t budge.”

Last summer, the U.S. Department of Justice notified Johnson City that it was investigating the matter, but there has been no action taken, Dunlap said.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Greer dismissed the original suit, concluding that the plaintiff’s claims were not “ripe for decision” in part because it was impossible for the court to know whether the harm alleged would ever happen.

Dunlap refiled again in a federal court in Nashville. In October, that suit was transferred back to Greer and Dunlap filed for a motion for a preliminary injunction, which would have invalidated the BZA’s ruling. There has been no decision in that case.

In December, he also filed a motion against both Johnson City and the state agency for summary judgment, which basically asks the judge to rule there is no dispute regarding the facts of the case, and that a ruling can be made. This attempt also has received no action.  

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