Residents of Flint, Michigan scored a small victory yesterday after a judge ruled that they could indeed sue the state of Michigan and government officials for their negligence in the decisions that led to the contamination of the city’s water supply.
According to the Detroit News, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Mark T. Boonstra said Flint residents had provided sufficient evidence for the claims laid out in their lawsuit against the state. The plaintiffs asserted that “if proven” to be true, their claims would show the actions of state officials were “so arbitrary in a constitutional sense, as to shock the conscience.”
Boonstra also declined state officials’ request to dismiss the case on grounds that residents failed to file their lawsuit within six months following the Flint Water Crisis, the Detroit News reports. The judge deemed the officials’ claims “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,” Boonstra wrote in his opinion.
Per the Detroit Free Press, the judge’s ruling will now allow Flint residents to move forward with their suit against Michigan’s departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services and two ex-Flint emergency managers for failing to protect city residents’ “bodily integrity.” The plaintiffs assert that contamination of the city’s water supply severely damaged the health of citizens and lowered their property values.
Residents also accused state officials of intentionally trying to hide evidence while downplaying the severity of the health risks associated with the contaminated water. The plaintiffs say they’re entitled to unspecified monetary compensation.
Attorneys representing the residents of Flint expressed joy at Boonstra’s decision to move forward with parts of the case.
“The victors here are the people of Flint. They are going to get their day in court,” said attorney Michael Pitt. “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…”
“He [Boonstra] took the factual allegations of all the things the state did wrong, if what they say is true they meet the definition of shocking the conscience,” Pitt added.
Because Snyder and the emergency managers are only being sued in their official capacities, the state will ultimately have to foot the bill if damages are awarded to the plaintiffs, the Detriot Free Press reports. Melissa Mays, one of many complainants in the suit, said she expects the state to be surprised at the fact that it can’t avoid being slapped with the hefty bill.
“I would hope for a quick settlement,” Mays said of the case. “Because the people here need help.”