Substance Recovery Center Skips One of the Steps, Has Appeal Rejected

Most organizations that treat substance abuse do so through a step-by-step process (ex: Alcohol Anonymous’ 12 steps). Follow the steps, get the outcome you want.  Given that, it seems strange to have this type of organization have legal problems from skipping a step, yet that is exactly what happened in today’s case.

Safe Harbor, a retreat for those recovering from alcohol or drug abuse, opened its door in East Hampton after a building inspector granted it a reasonable accommodation to operate in a residential area, on the theory that the use was functionally equivalent to a family. Later, the building inspector determined that Safe Harbor would in fact need a special permit as a semi-public facility. Safe Harbor unsuccessfully appealed to the Zoning Board, before commencing a suit in federal district court alleging violations of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the FHA (Fair Housing Act).

The district court ruled that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction as the claims were not yet ripe, a position affirmed on appeal. Why? Because Safe Harbor failed to apply for the special permit that both the building inspector and zoning board had suggested.  Even if the determination by the Board had technically been “final,” there was a remaining avenue of recourse available. In short, the Safe Harbor went straight to the courts without exhausting its other remedies. This reiterates a common theme in our land use blog: always exhaust administrative appeals before pursuing further legal recourse, because if you try to skip steps you may end up falling off the wagon further down the road. 

The case was Safe Harbor Retreat, LLC v Town of East Hampton, 2015 WL 6405378 (2d Cir. 2015)

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