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New Method Wellness, Inc. v. City of Dana Point (Aug. 23, 2019, No. G056741) __ Cal.App.5th __ [2019 WL 3980797], certified for publication Sept. 13, 2019

Residential drug treatment facilities violating zoning ordinances may be enjoined as per se nuisances.

New Method Wellness, Inc., operates a substance abuse treatment center headquartered in San Juan Capistrano, where it is licensed to offer mental health and substance abuse services. An affiliated company, NMW Beds, owns three properties in residential zones in the City of Dana Point, where New Method houses some of its patients. Dana Point filed a nuisance action, seeking an injunction barring New Method and NMW Beds from using the residences to house patients in violation of zoning ordinances. The trial court granted injunctive relief, ruling that the unlicensed residences were nuisances per se because they violated zoning ordinances in operating as drug treatment centers. Defendants appealed. 

The Court of Appeal affirmed. First, the court explained that ownership of the property is irrelevant to the nuisance action; instead, how the property is being used is probative. Here, substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that defendants’ property was being used for drug rehabilitation and therefore had to be licensed by Dana Point for that use. Because the residences were unlicensed, they were nuisances per se that could be enjoined without proof of irreparable injury. Second, the court rejected defendants’ argument that Dana Point’s zoning ordinance was preempted by Health and Safety Code section 11834.23, holding that unlicensed facilities may not invoke that statute. The court also rejected defendants’ contention that the residences did not need to be licensed under Health and Safety Code section 1505, subdivision (i), because that statutes applies only “where the facilities provides no care or supervision.”  

The bulletin describing the Court of Appeal’s decision was originally prepared for the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys (CSHA) by H. Thomas Watson and Peder K. Batalden, Horvitz & Levy LLP, and is republished with permission. For more information regarding this bulletin, please contact H. Thomas Watson, Horvitz & Levy LLP, at 818-995-0800 or htwatson@horvitzlevy.com.

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