UPDATE 7/15: This story was updated with a statement from American Addiction Centers.
By MATT BLOIS
An addiction treatment trade group is calling a lawsuit filed by the Brentwood addiction treatment company American Addiction Centers a “wild-eyed conspiracy.”
The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit in a court filing on Friday.
In May, American Addiction Centers sued the trade organization, claiming NAATP unfairly prevented the company from joining the organization.
The lawsuit also claims that NAATP defamed AAC in front of Congress and in talks with Google, which tightly regulates online advertising for addiction treatment providers.
In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, NAATP argued it can exclude AAC from the organization because trade groups have a fundamental right to make their own decisions about membership.
It also argued that AAC is a public figure — in part because the company created its own website titled “The Truth About AAC” to publicize the case — which may make it much more difficult to prove that NAATP defamed AAC.
NAATP accused AAC of filing the lawsuit as a publicity stunt, calling the complaint “a 390-paragraph mix of grievance-airing and public relations crisis management” in court documents.
Another document describes the first nine pages of the complaint as “a press release masquerading as a court filing.”
Following the motion to dismiss the case, AAC issued a press statement accusing NAATP of trying to gain a competitive edge for its members by disparaging the company. The company reiterated its claim that NAATP lied to Congress and Google.
In the statement, AAC argued that painting the for-profit company as a “bad guy” stifles access to treatment.
AAC used to be a part of NAATP, but the trade group stopped renewing AAC’s membership in 2018. According to court documents, NAATP updated its code of ethics and found that AAC didn’t meet those standards.
The trade group’s code of conduct — under a section titled deceptive advertising or marketing practices — prohibits members from operating directory websites.
AAC operates a number of directory websites that offer contact information for substance abuse treatment centers, as well as general information about recovery.
A phone number listed on each website connects users with an AAC employee to discuss treatment options. If patients don’t want to go to an AAC treatment center, the disclaimer says patients can find direct contact info for another facility through the directory.
In the lawsuit, NAATP acknowledged the websites do provide useful information but also described the sites as the de facto marketing arm of AAC.
Those websites have previously accounted for a large chunk of patients at the company’s treatment centers. After Google’s search algorithm demoted the company’s sites last year, patient volumes fell sharply.
The company has slowly been building back patient numbers over the course of 2019.
According to court documents, Google has also banned AAC from using its advertising platform. In an effort to block deceptive treatment providers, Google started a program in 2017 to certify legitimate treatment providers. AAC hasn’t been certified.
In AAC’s complaint, the company wrote that Google and the company running the certification program worked closely with NAATP to determine appropriate certification requirements.
In its motion to dismiss, NAATP argued that it was ridiculous to believe the trade organization had the power to control decisions at one of the most powerful companies in the world.
NAATP argued that the lawsuit was a heavy-handed attempt to force the organization to accept AAC as a member. The organization believes AAC sued the non-profit group rather than Google in the hopes that NAATP would fold due to a lack of resources.
As of Friday afternoon, a judge had yet to rule on the motion to dismiss. An initial case management conference is set for Aug. 7.