Narconon claims no liability in death of Norcross rehab patient

Attorneys for Narconon International and its Georgia affiliate argued Thursday they were not liable for the 2008 drug overdose of Patrick Desmond, then a patient at the Norcross rehabilitation facility.

“Never before has a court in Georgia found civil liability because the plaintiff took an illegal drug,” said Jay Bennett, an attorney for Narconon International, which seeks a summary judgment from DeKalb County State Judge Stacey Hydrick less than four weeks before a wrongful death suit filed by Desmond’s parents is set to commence. “A plaintiff can’t take advantage of his own wrongdoing by illegally taking heroin.”

The parents of Patrick Desmond — who died of a lethal combination of alcohol and opiates — allege the drug treatment clinic 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 a residential facility.

Those accusations will go uncontested due to the withdrawal of Narconon of Georgia’s response, as ordered by Hydrick in November. She ruled the non-profit “intentionally, willfully and repeatedly provided false and misleading responses to plaintiff’s discovery requests regarding issues relevant to the resolution of this case.”

Narconon International, based in Los Angeles, is also named in the suit. Attorneys for the drug treatment organization with ties to the Church of Scientology said during Thursday’s hearing they were not responsible for the Norcross clinic’s alleged negligence.

“These two companies are separate corporations,” Narconon International lawyer David Root said. “International does not own, and Georgia is not a subsidiary, or local licensee.”

The international group is “not involved” in the Georgia group’s daily operations, Root said.

But the lawyer for Desmond’s parents, pointing to a contract between the two entities in which Narconon International agrees to provide periodic, on-site health and safety inspections, said its responsibility is irrefutable.

“Narconon International has assumed a contractual duty to address anything that is a ‘non-optimal’ situation,” said plaintiff’s attorney Jeff Harris, adding the international group regularly inspected the Georgia clinic. “They’re on constant notice there are problems at the housing (component) and they never do anything about it.”

Narconon of Georgia attorney Barbara Marschalk said the overriding issue of the case is Desmond’s willful use of an illegal substance.

“Is it fair and reasonable to hold someone accountable for their own conduct?” she said. In her closing argument Thursday, Marschalk said, “Addicts find a way to get drugs. That is a simple fact of of life. No one from Narconon of Georgia gave him drugs.”

Moreover, Marschalk said Desmond knew he was enrolled in an outpatient program, pointing to documents signed by the 28-year-old former Marine.

“None of the misrepresentations caused Patrick Desmond’s death,” she said.

Harris countered that Narconon has engaged in “a pattern of criminal activity.”

“All we’re saying it that a drug and alcohol rehab facility has to take reasonable steps to prevent … their own patients from attempting to get drugs and alcohol,” he said. “Those people are there because they have a disease and they should be treated as such.”

Hydrick said she would rule on Narconon’s request for a summary judgment before a pre-trial hearing scheduled for Feb. 4.

Narconon of Georgia is dealing with other legal issues outside of the pending civil trial. The state Department of Community Health announced in late December it intends to revoke the Norcross clinic’s license for misrepresenting itself as a residential treatment facility.

Narconon has appealed the ruling, requesting a hearing as allowed by state law.

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