Newport to ask judge to close recovery homes

Newport Beach's city attorney said Monday that the city plans to ask a judge this week to close seven recovery homes found to be operating outside of the law.

The proposal comes after an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that Morningside Recovery in Lido Village operates in violation of a city ordinance barring commercial recovery centers in residential areas.

Morningside Chief Executive Mary Helen Beatificato did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At issue in last week's ruling was whether Morningside operates treatment facilities, as it contends, or residential homes for those trying to recover from addiction. The distinction is important because rental homes, which largely fall under state and federal housing laws, are not subject to the same types of city restrictions as rehabilitation centers.

While the city allows rehab facilities in some areas, typically parts of the city with higher density, Morningside has operated in neighborhoods of single-family homes, in violation of a local ordinance, City Attorney Aaron Harp said.

In Judge Sheila Fell's ruling Thursday, she said residents of Morningside facilities generally stay 30 to 90 days, per their treatment plans, and do not chose with whom or where they live.

"The only connection between the residents of Morningside's houses is the treatment relationship between the client and Morningside," Fell said. "The residents are not friends or relatives. Their mail is delivered to Morningside's offices and distributed from there to the clients."

She said, in her ruling, that Morningside residents don't contribute to household expenses and are not allowed visitors, though they do help with household chores.

Mayor Keith Curry lauded the ruling as a victory for the city, which has been battling the proliferation of rehab homes for years.

"We're very pleased with the court's decision," he said. "This upholds the city's strategies for addressing these nuisances, and it helps us preserve the character of our communities."

Morningside Recovery, which also operates in Costa Mesa, has been mired in legal troubles.

Among those is a lawsuit filed by the family of 20-year-old Brandon Jacques, who went into cardiac arrest while being treated for alcoholism and bulimia at a different Costa Mesa facility. Morningside has maintained it was not caring for Jacques when he died.

More recently, actress Lindsay Lohan visited Morningside's Lido Isle home about two weeks ago. After staying a few minutes, she left for the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage.

Morningside will have 10 days to object to the proposed judgment.

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