The 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is the first by a federal appeals court to address whether government officials violated Flint residents' substantive due process rights to bodily integrity under the 14th Amendment.
A federal appeals court has affirmed claims that several government employees linked to the Flint water crisis violated the constitutional rights of the city’s residents, emphasizing that the conduct of some Michigan state officials “shock our conscience.”
The Jan. 4 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is the first by a federal appeals court to address a substantive claim brought in several of the water crisis cases, including a pending class action: whether government officials violated Flint, Michigan, residents’ substantive due process rights to bodily integrity under the 14th Amendment.
“Involuntarily subjecting nonconsenting individuals to foreign substances with no known therapeutic value—often under false pretenses and with deceptive practices hiding the nature of the interference—is a classic example of invading the core of the bodily integrity protection,” wrote Judge Richard Griffin, for the majority. “If ever there was an egregious violation of the right to bodily integrity, this is the case.”
Ted Leopold, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the consolidated class action over the Flint water crisis, said the decision, which came in an individual lawsuit, brought Flint residents “one step closer to justice.”
“It has certainly a significant impact on the class action case because it all deals with the same issues of qualified immunity and constitutional bodily integrity matters, all of which are part of the class action,” said Leopold of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. “The Sixth Circuit ruled that both of those issues can go forward.”
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