On August 1, 2018, Judge Judith E. Levy of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan granted in part and denied in part the defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, clearing the way for the Flint Water Crisis Class Action against government officials and private contractors to proceed.

Judge Levy’s ruling protects plaintiffs’ key claims and dismissed in part the defendants’ motions, writing in her opinion that certain “government officials disregarded the risk the water posed, denied the increasingly clear threat the public faced, protected themselves with bottled water, and rejected solutions that would have ended this crisis sooner.”

The role of government in fueling the water crisis has taken center stage, following the release of July 19, 2018 report from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector detailing the agency’s many failures in its response to the water crisis that has consumed Flint.

On July 26, 2017, Theodore J. Leopold of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and Michael Pitt of Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers PC were appointed by Judge Levy as Interim Co-Lead Counsel for the ten related class action lawsuits filed in federal court on behalf of Flint, Michigan residents and businesses harmed by exposure to toxic levels of lead and other hazards in the city’s drinking water. The class actions were consolidated for all purposes, including trial, under In re Flint Water Cases, Case No. 16-cv-10444.

Case Background

In 2014, in an effort to save money, the City of Flint switched its water supply to water drawn from the highly contaminated Flint River. That change set into motion a series of events that ended with many of the City’s nearly 8,000 small children permanently harmed by lead poisoning, and over 30,000 of the City’s many housing units rendered nearly worthless because of corroded, unsafe pipes and appliances.

On March 31, 2016, Cohen Milstein filed an initial lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Flint residents against two corporations and multiple government entities involved in the Flint water and lead crisis. According to the complaint, engineering firms Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam (LAN) and Veolia, both major professional companies with experience in water systems, gave the City disastrously bad advice about the switch to Flint River water.

When Flint’s citizens complained about the new water’s bad smell, color, and taste—and later, when the City suffered an outbreak of deadly Legionnaires’ disease—the engineering companies failed to identify corroding pipes as the root cause of the City’s problems. Had they taken even the most basic steps required of professional engineers, they would have discovered that Flint River water was eight times more corrosive than the City’s previous water source, and they would have taken steps to prevent the leaching of dangerous lead into residents’ water supply.

Instead, LAN and Veolia made the problem worse. They recommended that the City double the water system’s dose of ferric chloride—a highly acidic chemical that only compounded the City’s corrosion problem. Rather than anticipating and ameliorating the water’s increased corrosivity, LAN and Veolia did nothing to prevent added ferric chloride from further eating away at Flint’s lead pipes.

Subsequent complaints have been filed including the most recent March 30, 2017 complaint on behalf of Village Shores against LAN, Veolia, Governor Rick Snyder, the State of Michigan, the City of Flint, and city personnel in their individual and official capacities. The complaints allege that, as a result, lead concentrations in Flint water reached astonishingly high levels—in one case, as much as 880 times the EPA’s legal limit. The toxic lead made its way into residents’ water, and then their blood—a circumstance that is particularly hard for Flint’s children. Lead poisoning is known to cause serious damage to children’s central and peripheral nervous systems, stunt growth, reduce IQ, and cause serious behavioral problems. The effects of these symptoms can reverberate across a child’s entire lifespan.

Flint’s corrosive water has also caused devastating damages to residents’ property. The water has permanently corroded pipes and appliances connected to the Flint water system—leaving many residents in a vicious catch-22. Because of the damages to their pipes caused by LAN’s and Veolia’s negligence, the homes of Flint residents are no longer valuable enough to serve as collateral for the loans they need to fix their pipes and purchase new, safe appliances. Instead, the residents are stuck in dangerous homes, unable to afford the price of safety.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit aim to hold all those responsible accountable for preventable circumstances that led to the crisis, the race-based decisions about the quality of water delivered to certain communities and the failure to respond appropriately to initial signs of trouble. The Flint residents allege that officials from the City of Flint, the EPA and two private engineering firms created the public health crisis, having made calculated decisions that “deliberately exposed” residents of Flint – a predominantly poor, African American community – to the harmful health effects of lead while providing superior water to residents of Genesee County, the affluent, largely white community nearby.

The plaintiffs are also asking the Court to establish a Flint Victims Compensation Fund, providing the 100,000 affected Flint residents with medical and financial assistance. The Fund, to be overseen by a court-appointed monitor, would establish medical monitoring to provide health care and other critical services and create a source of funding for repairs of private property, among other things.

For More Information

For press inquiries about the Flint Water Litigation, please contact Desmond Lee at 646.517.1826 or Brian Levin at 646.200.5331 or cohenmilstein@berlinrosen.com. For more information about joining the Flint Water Litigation, please contact Ted Leopold or Emmy Levens at Cohen Milstein at 561.515.1400.