Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lawsuit over drug rehab center awaits ruling on firm's Scientology roots

BROOKSVILLE — A Spring Hill drug rehabilitation center is seeking more than $6 million in damages from Hernando County for turning down its plans to expand the facility four years ago.

But before that matter can be decided this week in the U.S. District Court in Tampa, the judge must settle another issue — whether the lawyer representing the county can talk about the center's connection to the Church of Scientology and about a spate of recent deaths at similar facilities.

Last month the attorney for Toucan Partners LLC, the firm that owns the Suncoast Rehabilitation Center on Cessna Drive, and Narconon Spring Hill Inc., which runs the center, sought a ruling seeking to prohibit the county from mentioning the connection or the deaths at other centers operating under the Narconon name.

As of late last week, a ruling from the judge had not been filed on this question. Some judges prefer to wait until the issue is raised during a trial, said Joe Mason, the Brooksville attorney for Toucan and Narconon Spring Hill.

The motion filed by Jon Tasso, another attorney for Toucan and Narconon, argued that mention of Scientology and its connection to Narconon — or recent deaths at Narconon's signature treatment center in Oklahoma — were not relevant to the issues central to the lawsuit.

In 2009, the Hernando County Commission turned down Toucan's proposal to expand from 21 to 54 beds on the 3-acre site, citing incompatibility with the adjacent residential neighborhood.

Toucan Partners sued, first in Circuit Court and then, in June of 2011, in federal court, claiming the county had discriminated against disabled people, specifically recovering drug and alcohol abusers, and violated the Fair Housing Act.

The county denies the allegations.

Besides the damages for income lost because of the denied expansion, Toucan Partners and Narconon Spring Hill are seeking attorney's fees and other costs.

But the county's attorney in the federal case, Doug Noah, argues in a response to the two motions that the connection between Narconon and Scientology is relevant because of its potential to reduce the number of patients the facility attracts. That, in turn, would mean less income and lower damages.

Noah's response to Mason's motions explains the Narconon connection to Scientology, including that it is based on the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Narconon International's own website, he argued, "makes it clear that there is a large amount of support from the Church of Scientology and Scientologists … (and that) the majority of the centers are open and run by Scientologists,''

Noah also cited an official from the Suncoast Rehabilitation, Eric Mitchell, who said in his deposition that the Narconon method used at the center is "a major factor in decisionmaking for people in where they go to treatment.''

Toucan corporate representative Lloyd Morgenstern said, according to Noah's filing, that "there is a relationship between Narconon and Scientology and that this relationship would likely decrease demand to some people.''

And Noah noted that both Mitchell and Morgenstern had said under oath that the bad publicity about three 2011 deaths at a Narconon facility in Oklahoma could affect the Spring Hill center because it also uses the Narconon rehab process; Mitchell had also said there was a drop in enrollment when the Oklahoma deaths were publicized.

The trial is expected to last most of the week.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434.

Lawsuit over drug rehab center awaits ruling on firm's Scientology roots 01/05/13 [Last modified: Saturday, January 5, 2013 12:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst


    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.