State loses in attempt to dismiss suit charging bias against abusers Group seeks to offer drug treatment on ship

December 03, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson has denied the state's request to dismiss a lawsuit charging that Maryland is discriminating against recovering substance abusers who could be treated aboard the former Navy hospital ship USS Sanctuary.

The suit was filed last June by Project Life, which plans to offer drug treatment programs for women after the ship finds a permanent home.

Allowing the case to go forward, Judge Nickerson ruled Monday that "the only unresolved issue is whether the potential clients of Project Life have been denied services by reason of their disabilities. The court finds that there is a genuine dispute as to why the Sanctuary has been denied a permanent home."

For several years, Project Life has tried to find a permanent home in the Port of Baltimore for the Sanctuary so that it can offer what it considers needed facilities to treat recovering female drug and alcohol abusers.

The General Assembly authorized $750,000 in bond money for renovation of the ship, and the state's Department of Business and Economic Development provided $50,000 for operating expenses. The ship has been at Pier 6 at North Locust Point for almost two years. The nonprofit group, which owns the ship, charged that the Maryland Port Authority refused to allow a permanent berth and required it to prove that "community support" exists for the project.

These conditions, Project Life said, amounted to discrimination under two federal statutes -- the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.

"From the evidence submitted by the plaintiffs," the judge observed, "it appears that on several occasions, the Port Authority offered locations agreeable to Project Life, only to later withdraw the offers in response to opposition from neighboring co-tenants or community members."

Defendants in the lawsuit include Gov. Parris N. Glendening; outgoing secretary of transportation David L. Winstead; and Tay Yoshitani, former director of the port authority. In its motion, the state denied discriminating against the plaintiffs, saying, in part, that the residential nature of the Sanctuary program was inconsistent with the activities of a busy commercial port.

Pub Date: 12/03/98

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