Judge imposes harsh sanctions on Norcross drug treatment facility

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/November 8, 2012

In a rare move, a DeKalb County state judge has withdrawn a Norcross drug treatment facility's response to allegations in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a former patient's parents.

Judge Stacey K. Hydrick said in a court order Nov. 5 that Narconon of Georgia "intentionally, willfully and repeatedly provided false and misleading responses to plaintiff's discovery requests regarding issues relevant to the resolution of this case."

Narconon "repeatedly failed to produce, and on multiple occasions falsely denied the existence of clearly relevant, responsive documents and information," Hydrick wrote.

As a result, the allegations against Narconon will essentially go unanswered, which will be to the suing parents' advantage.

"This judicial order is as sharply worded rebuke of a party as one is likely to see in American courts," said University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson, calling the sanctions "very uncommon."

In their suit, the family of Patrick Desmond — who died of a drug overdose four years ago while a patient at Narconon of Georgia — alleges the rehabilitation facility duped them into believing it provided in-patient care even though it lacked the proper license.

Their suit, filed in May 2010, also accuses Narconon of Georgia of lying to Florida's drug court, which had sentenced Desmond to six months in an in-patient residential facility.

Those accusations will go uncontested during the civil trial, scheduled to begin in mid-February, unless an appeal is granted, Carlson said.

In a statement, Narconon of Georgia's lawyers said they "respectfully disagree" with Hydrick's order.

"We are now pursuing the only avenue available to us to try to seek appellate review of the order at this time," said attorneys Steve Miller and Barbara Marschalk in their statement.

That appeal cannot be granted, however, without Hydrick's permission.

Information contained within the Desmond lawsuit – first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month — has led Georgia's Department of Community Health to reopen an investigation into Narconon of Georgia.

The state has received a decade's worth of complaints that Narconon, licensed only for outpatient care, was illegally operating a residential facility. But investigators say they never had enough evidence to prove the accusations, even though a number of its inspectors believed the Norcross treatment facility had repeatedly misrepresented itself.

DCH director David Cook said the state can't act against Narconon solely on the basis that it may have made false claims about providing residential care.

"There's a distinction between running a residential treatment facility and holding oneself out as a residential treatment facility," Cook told the AJC. "The violation would be actually running a residential treatment facility."

Attorney Jeff Harris, who represents Rick and Colleen Desmond, said his clients were "very gratified" by the order.

"Though they realize it won't bring their son back, they feel this brings them one step closer to shutting down Narconon for good," he said.

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