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Court supports Newport rehab law

Federal jurist finds for city in discrimination lawsuit. Also, operators may seek some damages.

October 27, 2010|By Mike Reicher, mike.reicher@latimes.com

NEWPORT BEACH — A federal judge ruled this week that Newport Beach's law restricting group rehabilitation homes does not discriminate against disabled people, handing the city a partial victory in its protracted litigation with operators.

U.S. District Court Judge James Selna found that the city enforces the ordinance against both recovering addicts and other individuals equally, and that the city did not violate the patients' privacy, but he also found that the operators can seek some damages.

Since the city starting enforcing the ordinance in 2008, it has spent nearly $2 million defending lawsuits from operators and has settled some of those suits. The ordinance was designed to limit the proliferation of the homes, which neighbors typically despise. These remaining court cases had left the city's law in doubt.

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"The court's decision essentially removes the threat of legal challenges that could overturn the city's group home ordinance," the city said in a statement issued at Tuesday night's council meeting.

One major law that limits the city's regulation of rehab homes is the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1988. It prevents discrimination against people who are in a "protected class" when seeking housing of their choice. Recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, courts have found, fall into this classification, as they are considered "disabled" by their addictions.

Pacific Shores Recovery, the lead plaintiff in this case, and other operators, claimed that the city was discriminating against recovering patients by enforcing its ordinance. The law requires rehab home operators to undergo an extensive public review process, to get permits and follow a number of other rules.

In granting one of the city's motions for summary judgment, the judge found that the city's law did not discriminate. But on another issue, he did rule that the operators could seek damages from a moratorium on the homes.

The attorney representing the group home operators, Steven Polin, said that wasn't the only issue his clients would pursue. He maintains that the city violates the Fair Housing Act in how it enforces the ordinance, and that his clients will take the city to trial.

"This case is far from over," Polin said. "Whether the process is discriminatory and whether the requirements for the use permits are discriminatory – those issues haven't been resolved."

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