Why the courts believe an addiction treatment group home is really a 'family'

Nov 09, 2018 at 07:00 am by Michelle Willard

Voyage Group Home

A group of neighbors who sued the city of Murfreesboro over a residential group home lost its appeal Oct. 30 challenging the zoning of the home.

In 2014, Murfreesboro approved plans from JourneyPure to create a treatment facility in the former home of former County Attorney Jim Cope at 1306 S.E. Broad St.

In response, neighbors Cindy Todd Brumfield, Tom Todd, and John Hawk filed the lawsuit claiming a group home violated the city's zoning ordinance and damaged their property values.

The original bench trial found on summary judgment that the residential group home is allowed under the Fair Housing Act.

Read the full appeal

The Group Home

Named "Voyage," the house was converted to a residential addiction treatment center for young women with co-occurring disorders (like PTSD, depression or anxiety). It houses up to eight patients (at a monthly rate of $19,500 per patient) who are referred from TrustPoint Psychiatric Hospital in Murfreesboro.

According to the JourneyPure website, the home offers recovery-based group therapy with "addiction education, an emotions processing group focusing on peer support and developing the coping skills needed for maintaining mental health, and experiential therapy."

The plaintiffs argued that Voyage wasn't a group home but instead was a commercial business, according to the Murfreesboro Post.

To fight the group home, they contacted the city's legal department and went before the Board of Zoning Appeals but, in the end, the home was allowed to operate.

In their suit against the city and JourneyPure, the plaintiffs asked for a permanent injunction preventing the operation of a transitional home or commercial enterprise at 1306 S.E. Broad St., as well as monetary damages for loss of property value and legal fees and expenses.

The original ruling

In 2014, Rutherford Circuit Court Judge Keith Siskin issued a summary judgment in favor of the defendant concluding "the operation of the group home did not violate the zoning ordinance because the group home’s residents constituted a 'family as defined in the ordinance. The court further concluded that the use was protected under the Fair Housing Act."

His ruling dismissed the complaint.

Siskin based his opinion on the definition of "family" as defined in Murfreesboro's zoning ordinance.

According to Murfreesboro's rules, a family can be defined as "a group of not more than eight unrelated persons with disabilities, as defined by applicable federal law" and support staff.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a “disability” includes “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.”

This means the group home as a "single-family detached dwelling" is a use by right under its current zoning.

Siskin did give the plaintiffs hope when he "also agreed that the group home might qualify as a 'transitional home' or 'group shelter' under the zoning ordinance, uses not permitted by right."

The Appeal

On appeal, the plaintiffs stuck to an argument about how the city applied the Fair Housing Act.

They contended that the city "cloaks the corporate Defendants, so to permit them to operate a for-profit rehabilitation clinic from a house, on a residential street, zoned strictly residential."

And if the home should be considered a "for-profit rehabilitation clinic in a house," then it is not a use by right.

Then, Siskin's summary judgment in favor of the defendants was in error.

The Appeals Court did not agree. On Oct. 30, the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment.

Michelle Willard is a freelance journalist who fills her days with social media marketing, politics, true crime, and taking complaints. You can complain to her on Twitter @MichWillard or by email michelle(at)murfreesborovoice.com. 


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