Methadone clinic cleared in Saginaw

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A methadone clinic in Saginaw could begin pre-admitting patients within a week with an opening date pending only building inspections.

After two years and a 4-1 ruling by the Alabama Cout of Civil Appeals, the way appears clear for methadone treatment to begin in Shelby County.

The ruling in favor of Shelby County Treatment Center (SCTC), Susan Staats-Sidwell, Dr. Glen Archibald and Frank Combs was issued Friday, Oct. 21.

&uot;It was never proven that a misrepresentation was made by Shelby County Treatment Center and therefore the injunction was lifted.

&uot;This allows my client, after two years, to begin operation of this facility that is so needed in Shelby County.&uot;

Those were the words of attorney David Belser, who represented Sidwell and SCTC, which recently won the right in the state Court of Civil Appeals to open a methadone clinic in Saginaw.

According to information included in the opinion of the court, written by Presiding Judge John Brantley Crawley, methadone is a medication used to treat heroine and other opiate addiction. It reduces the craving by blocking receptor sites that are affected by heroine and other opiates.

On Oct. 21, 2003, Sidwell, Archibald and Combs (SCTC) filed an application with the state Health Planning and Development Agency (SHPDA) for a certificate of need (CON) to operate a methadone clinic in Shelby County.

On Feb. 4, 2004, SHPDA granted the CON application. The application stated that the proposed location of the clinic was Calera.

After the CON was granted, SCTC was unsuccessful in locating suitable rental property or a lot for sale in Calera upon which to build the clinic.

On May 24, 2004, SCTC filed a request for a modification of the CON to relocate in Saginaw. The request was granted that same day.

On May 20, 2004, Robby Owens, Shelby County 18th Judicial Circuit district attorney, &uot;purporting&uot; to represent the state of Alabama, Alan Edmondson and 37 other residents of Saginaw filed suit in Shelby County Circuit Court for injunctive relief or to have SHPDA hold a public hearing on the &uot;propriety&uot; of locating the clinic in Saginaw.

On May 25 2004, the trial court issued a temporary restraining order requiring SCTC to cease and desist from all actions regarding opening the methadone clinic in Saginaw.

On June 4, 2004, a hearing was held. Attorney Mickey Johnson represented those attempting to stop the location of the clinic in Saginaw.

Following the hearing, the trial court granted the request of the plaintiff’s to stop the location.

The court determined that SCTC’s application was done procedurally according to controlling laws and applications, but that &uot;SCTC had misrepresented its intent to locate the clinic in Calera.&uot;

The court ruled that the decision to locate the clinic in Saginaw without providing any form of public notice of such intent &uot;deprived the plaintiffs of their right to due process.&uot;

On Oct. 12, the trial court entered an order permanently stopping SCTC from operating a methadone clinic in Saginaw.

Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Dan Reeves entered the ruling against the drug treatment center.

Owens and Pelham attorney Johnson, plaintiffs in the case, argued that Saginaw residents were never given the opportunity to oppose the clinic, which was set to open on U.S. Highway 31 in the unincorporated community.

According to the opinion issued by the Appeals Court, however, &uot;The state Health Plan does not designate a geographical area for methadone treatment … the county is the health-service area. Calera and Saginaw are both in Shelby County… SHPDA had no regulation requiring that any further notice be given to the residents of Saginaw when SCTC sought a modification of the CON to change the location of the clinic from Calera to Saginaw.&uot;

According to the opinion issued by the Appeals Court last week, &uot;SCTC presented uncontradicted evidence, however, indicating that any citizen concerned about the opening of a methadone clinic in Shelby County could have contacted SHPDA and learned that the CON was granted for the county at large.&uot;

The ruling stated that project modification requests such as the one by SCTC to change locations from Calera to Saginaw are routinely granted by the CON Board.

As for the involvement of the state as a plaintiff, the court’s ruling stated that the Shelby County District Attorney’s office erred in its involvement.

&uot;Notwithstanding the fact that the complaint for injunctive relief was nominally prosecuted in the name of the state of Alabama (as well as the 38 named plaintiffs alleging that they were citizens of Saginaw), it is apparent that the state of Alabama was not interested in the prosecution of this civil action, as the term ‘interested’ is used … Because the state was not ‘interested’ as a plaintiff in this action, the District Attorney had no authority to represent the plaintiffs.&uot;

The opinion concludes, &uot;The judgment of the Shelby County Circuit Court is reversed and the injunction is dissolved.&uot;

Judge Tommy Bryan and Craig Sorrell Pittman concurred with writing.

Judge William C. Thompson concurred in the result only, with writing. And Judge Glen Murdock dissented, without writing.

Thompson wrote, &uot;This case raises issues, especially concerning policy and the adequacy of SHPDA’s regulations, that cause me great concern.

&uot;However, those issues were not properly presented to the trial court or adequately argued on appeal. Therefore, I am constrained to concur in the result only in this matter.&uot;

After the ruling in her favor, Sidwell said, &uot;Justice has prevailed.&uot;

She said she will be ready to pre-admit patients within a week.

But before the center can open, the building must be inspected by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the state’s Mental Health Authority.

Owens had not returned calls at presstime