Appeals court backs sober-living homes in suit against Newport Beach

A recovery group meets on the sand in Newport Beach in 2007. The city's effort to curb sober-living group homes with a 2008 ordinance might be discriminatory, a federal appeals court panel decided Friday.
(Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times)

SAN FRANCISCO -- A Newport Beach ordinance designed to curb or eliminate group homes for recovering addicts may have illegally discriminated against people based on disability, a federal appeals court ruled unanimously Friday.

The decision by the U.S. 9thCircuit Court of Appeals revived lawsuits against the city by operators of group homes that lost money or had to shut down as a result of the 2008 ordinance.

The three-judge panel’s ruling also cleared the way for group home operators to receive financial compensation from Newport Beach and served as a warning to other cities that might want to eliminate such operations in residential neighborhoods.

A district court, in ruling for Newport Beach, mistakenly disregarded evidence that the city’s “sole objective in enacting and enforcing its ordinance was to discriminate against persons deemed to be disabled under state and federal housing discrimination laws,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the panel.


Although lawyers for Newport Beach tried to write a law that did not specifically single out homes for people recovering from alcohol and drug addiction, evidence suggested that the intent and enforcement of the ordinance were discriminatory, the court said. The law forced many group homes to close and prevented new ones from opening.

Newport Beach “created a task force to locate group homes, undertake surveillance of them, and enforce the zoning code strictly against them,” the court said. “All of the circumstances … compel the conclusion that the plaintiffs have raised a triable issue of fact as to whether the ordinance was motivated by the desire to discriminate against the disabled.”


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