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Seabrook House drops marketing lawsuit

March 10, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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New Jersey-based Seabrook House has voluntarily dismissed a federal lawsuit in which it had accused fellow treatment organization Elements Behavioral Health and marketing consultant Recovery Brands of unfair competition and trademark infringement. The lawsuit, in which Seabrook had contended that its name was used online to divert inquiring consumers to other treatment facilities, was dismissed with prejudice, meaning that Seabrook has agreed not to bring back the complaint at a later date.

Elements and Recovery Brands each issued a statement March 10 in response to the dismissal, which was announced in a brief notice filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on Feb. 27. Elements stated that the dismissal of the lawsuit “is consistent with Elements' position that the claims asserted by Seabrook House were without merit. Elements Behavioral Health adheres to the highest ethical digital marketing principles consistent with its commitment to responsible online advertising.”

Abhilash Patel, co-founder of Recovery Brands, which operates the online consumer resources Rehabs.com and Recovery.org, added in the statement, “It's significant to note the allegations—that we used deceptive tactics to misdirect traffic from Seabrook to other providers—were never proven. And those allegations could never have been proven because we don't use those tactics with anybody.”

The lawsuit was one component of an industrywide discussion of Internet marketing practices that suddenly became a public debate last fall, after Cirque Lodge director Gary Fisher urged his executive colleagues to take stronger action to combat deceptive marketing tactics. Fisher went public with his concerns after saying he had traced two separate instances of deceptive marketing using Cirque Lodge's name to Elements and to American Addiction Centers (AAC).

Seabrook's lawsuit, filed last summer, sought damages of an amount linked to profit that it alleged that the two defendants incurred as a result of the marketing efforts in question. Seabrook's chief executive, Ed Diehl, was not immediately available to comment on his facility's voluntary dismissal of the suit.

A settlement between the parties to the suit specifies that no monies (including attorneys' fees) are to be exchanged. Also, Elements' statement refers to an agreement that the parties will not list each other on any websites that they own or operate. Elements CEO David Sack, MD, said in the statement it remains uncertain how that will affect a relationship between Elements and Seabrook that he described as having been strong, characterized in part by numerous referrals from Elements to Seabrook.

Sack's statement appears to reserve its strongest comments for members of the treatment field in general. “We believe it is time for all members of our industry to move beyond rushing to conclude that something unethical has occurred just because a treatment center has developed robust online advertising campaigns that reach a broad audience of potential clients and their families,” Sack said.

The Recovery Brands sites offer a combination of free facility listings and sponsored content; the company states that it does not engage in any direct referral arrangements with facilities. Patel said in the company's statement that he would like treatment industry leaders to “work with us to establish better standards for digital marketing and launch an industrywide education effort about the power of the web to support people with addictions.”

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