Narconon settles wrongful death suit but legal challenges remain

Narconon of Georgia on Friday settled a wrongful death suit brought by the family of a former patient — three days before jury selection was to begin in the civil trial.

Details of the sealed agreement were not available.

Narconon of Georgia attorney Barbara Marschalk said in a statement, “We are happy to report that the matter was settled out of court to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.”

Meanwhile, Jeff Harris, lawyer for the family of Patrick Desmond — who died four years ago of a lethal combination of alcohol and opiates while a patient at the Norcross drug treatment facility — said he’s preparing further legal action against the Church of Scientology-affiliated clinic.

“Our investigation into claims of insurance fraud, illegal housing operations and other potentially illegal activities committed by Narconon of Georgia is ongoing,” Harris said.

Harris had no comment on the settlement.

Atlanta attorney Craig Jones, who was not involved in the case, said Narconon’s decision to settle made sense in light of a pre-trial ruling by DeKalb County State Court Judge Stacey Hydrick.

In a court order Nov. 5, Hydrick said Narconon of Georgia "intentionally, willfully and repeatedly provided false and misleading responses to plaintiff's discovery requests" and withdrew the drug treatment facility's responses to the allegations in the lawsuit.

“The judge’s ruling put the plaintiffs in a very strong position for trial,” Jones said.

The suit, filed nearly three years ago in DeKalb County, alleged the rehab clinic duped Desmond’s parents and a Florida drug court into believing it provided in-patient care even though it lacked the proper license. Desmond had been sentenced to six months in a residential facility by the Florida court.

Information obtained in the lawsuit and reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution led the state to reopen an investigation into Narconon of Georgia. In late December the Department of Community Health informed the clinic its license was being revoked for misrepresenting itself as a residential treatment facility.

Narconon of Georgia appealed the ruling, requesting a hearing as provided by state law. The program’s international arm was also named in the suit, though attorneys for Narconon International, based in Los Angeles, denied any linkage to the Norcross facility.

“These two companies are separate corporations,” the organization’s lawyer David Root said at a recent pre-trial hearing. “International does not own, and Georgia is not a subsidiary, or local licensee.”

But Harris said Narconon International had assumed a contractual duty to address problems at clinics bearing its name.

“They’re on constant notice there are problems at the housing (component) and they never do anything about it,” Harris said at that same hearing.

Narconon of Georgia remains open pending its appeal.

The program is also being investigated by State Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens after a former patient’s mother alleged her insurer was billed $166,275 for doctor visits that never occurred and treatment that was never provided.

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