Judge Rules Flint Residents Can Sue State of Mich. Over Water Crisis

In a 50-page ruling, a Michigan Court of Appeals judge said that Flint residents have provided sufficient facts to proceed with their lawsuit against the state. 

Flint Water Plant
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A judge in the Michigan Court of Claims ruled Thursday that residents of the city of Flint, Mich., have the right to sue the state and state officials for the decisions that led to the city’s lead-contaminated-water crisis.

The Detroit News reports that Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Mark T. Boonstra, who presides over the Court of Claims, said that residents had provided sufficient facts in their lawsuit against the state over contaminated water. If proved, those facts would show that actions by the state were “so arbitrary in a constitutional sense, as to shock the conscience.”

State officials claimed that the residents of Flint had not filed their lawsuit within six months of the water crisis and therefore the case should be dismissed. Boonstra said he found that argument to be “unpersuasive.”

“Were the court to accept defendants’ position, it would have to find that the plaintiffs’ claims are barred because they should have filed suit (or notice) at a time when the state itself was stating that it lacked any reason to know that the water supply was contaminated. The court is disinclined to so find,” Boonstra wrote in his 50-page ruling.

On Jan. 21, Flint residents filed their lawsuit against Gov. Rick Snyder, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and two former Flint emergency managers for the roles they allegedly played in contributing to the city’s water crisis. According to the Detroit News, the state of Michigan did not acknowledge that a lead problem existed in the water until October 2015.

Flint residents allege that state officials intentionally concealed data and made false statements about the potential health dangers associated with the contaminated water supply. This violated their constitutional right to bodily integrity, and the residents say they are entitled to unspecified monetary damages.

The lawsuit also alleges that property values in Flint have dropped, and the introduction of corrosive water caused by the April 2014 switch to the Flint River as the city’s water source caused damage to plumbing, water heaters and service lines.

Boonstra ruled that the plaintiffs have pleaded sufficient facts to state a cause for “inverse condemnation.”

“The allegations are sufficient, if proven, to allow a conclusion that the state actors’ actions were a substantial cause of the decline of the property’s value and that the state abused its power through affirmative actions directly aimed at the property, i.e. continuing to supply each water user with corrosive and contaminated water with the knowledge of the adverse consequences associated with being supplied such water,” the opinion said.

Michael Pitt, an attorney who represents Flint resident Melissa Mays and others in this case, told the Detroit News that Boonstra had “decimated the state on this one.”

“The victors here are the people of Flint. They are going to get their day in court,” Pitt said. “The opinion is well-crafted. It showed tremendous amount of thoughtful analysis of the issues, and the judge is evidently very engaged in the case.”

Read more at the Detroit News.

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