Judge Rules US Government Can Be Sued for Flint Water Crisis

A federal judge ruled that the federal government can be sued for the Flint water crisis. Residents of Flint, Michigan have filed several lawsuits, including class-action cases, against officials for failing to intervene sooner in the city’s water crisis.

US Judge Linda V. Parker ruled on April 18 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not protected from being sued for Flint’s water system becoming contaminated with lead in 2014 and 2015. Lawsuits against the EPA claim the agency “negligently responded to the water crisis.” “The impact on the health of the nearly 100,000 residents of the City of Flint remains untold,” Parker wrote in the opinion. “It is anticipated, however, that the injury caused by the lead-contaminated public water supply system will affect the residents for years and likely generations to come.”

Parker did not rule on the EPA’s negligence but noted that the agency was “well aware” that pipes from the Flint River, which supplies the city, were highly corrosive “and posed a significant danger of lead leaching” into residents’ homes. In her ruling, Parker also noted that the EPA was aware of the lead exposure’s health risks and that Flint officials did not warn residents. “Quite to the contrary, the EPA learned that state and local officials were misleading residents to believe that there was nothing wrong with the water supply,” Parker wrote. The EPA redirected The North Star’s inquiries to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond.

On April 1, US District Court Judge Judith Levy allowed a class-action lawsuit against former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to move forward. In her ruling, Levy allowed new evidence that claimed Snyder knew of the significant risks posed by Flint River water as early as April 2015 but failed to inform residents for months, The Detroit News reported. Snyder failed to appropriately intervene in the water crisis or inform the public about deadly outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, a rare but severe form of pneumonia that spreads through mist containing bacteria, the amended complaint claims. The Detroit News reported that at least 12 people died and another 79 people became sick during the Legionnaires’ outbreaks in Genesee County in 2014 and 2015.

According to the complaint, Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, warned the governor and executive staff in an April 28, 2015 email that the water crisis in Flint “continues to be a danger flag” for Snyder’s administration. Director of Urban Initiatives Harvey Hollins reportedly warned Snyder of residents' growing concerns that they were being exposed to toxic lead levels. Snyder did not publicly acknowledge the critical water contamination crisis in Flint until October 1, 2015.

Last fall, Levy decided to drop Snyder as a defendant in the case. However, in a 128-page decision, the judge wrote that if the new allegations were proven true, it would demonstrate that the former governor showed “callous disregard” for the health and safety of Flint residents.

Flint residents filed a class-action lawsuit against city and state officials seeking they be held accountable for the city’s water contamination crisis. The suit also includes at least one person who died due to possible Legionnaires’ disease, according to The Detroit News. Attorney Theodore Leopold told the newspaper that plaintiffs were happy with the judge’s decision and that the former governor would be “held accountable for his gross misconduct and bad decisions he made towards Flint.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.