SOUTH PORTLAND — Arguments could take place as soon as Friday in a lawsuit filed by two Main Street motels hoping to prevent the city from shutting them down.
According to David Lourie, the attorney for the motel owners, Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren on Tuesday ordered the city not to enforce the City Council’s decision to not renew the motels’ licenses until he can review the city’s response to Lourie’s request for emergency injunctive relief.
Lourie said he expects oral arguments will be heard Friday, with a decision likely next week on the motel owners’ attempt to prevent the city from putting them out of business as of June 1.
At a meeting May 15, city councilors cited repeated reports of criminal activity at the Knights Inn and Maine Motel, including drug activity and sex trafficking, as the basis for their decision. On May 22, the council unanimously adopted findings of fact in support of the decision, although it could vote to reconsider the action at its June 5 meeting.
Police Chief Edward Googins told councilors two prostitution investigations at the Knights Inn and an alleged overdose death at the Maine Motel violated a city ordinance dictating that disorderly conduct and disturbance of the peace are violations that can result in revocation or non-renewal of a license.
Police reports indicated the alleged incidents of sex trafficking and/or prostitution in June 2017 and January 2018 involved women who were either unable to speak English, or underage and listed as missing persons.
Although Googins recommended placing conditions on the businesses, including installing video surveillance and more communication between motel staff and police, councilors voted 5-2 not to renew a lodging license for the Knights Inn at 634 Main St. and 7-0 not to renew the license of the Maine Motel, 606 Main St.
Lourie, representing Knights Inn owner Kantilal Patel and Maine Motel owner Ibrahim Dhamdachhawala, said the ordinance is being incorrectly applied because there have not been repeated incidents and his clients are not responsible for the misconduct of their patrons.
Lourie said the decision by the council was intended to curry political favor with residents of the Thornton Heights neighborhood.
Patel, in the motion seeking injunctive relief filed Friday, May 25, said he and his family have operated the Knights Inn for 30 years, and even a temporary closure of the business will cause severe financial distress. He said they had no knowledge of the criminal activity allegedly taking place at the motel.
Lourie, in the court document, also alleged retaliation by the South Portland Police Department, saying a desk clerk at the Knights Inn said an officer told her not to rent to people from other countries, not to take cash for payment, and to take pictures of all New York registration cards. He said the clerk said people from New York are “druggies.”
Lourie said motel employees are not vicariously responsible for their guests’ conduct, and were cooperative with police when asked to identify people and to provide access to rooms.
Two motels on Main Street in South Portland are challenging the city’s denial of their license renewal.