U.S. Sixth Circuit - The FindLaw 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Flint Water Crisis Injury Lawsuits Revived

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a pair of federal lawsuits filed as a result of the water contamination scandal in Flint, Michigan. The cases were filed on behalf of injured residents to receive compensation for their personal injuries.

The cases are against the city and local officials, as well as against the state and state officials. Though the court revived the pair of lawsuits, the claims against the state and governor have been dismissed due to immunity.

Flint Water Crisis Cases

The Flint water crisis has resulted in several legal cases, including criminal charges. A class action to help get funds to fix the actual problem with the water settled earlier this year for nearly $100 million.

Prior to this ruling, the two underlying cases were dismissed as the lower courts ruled that the Safe Water Drinking Act did not permit claims for damages under section 1983. This left the claims without any federal causes of action, and thus the federal courts dismissed the cases as only state law claims remained, and each refused to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. On appeal the cases were consolidated.

Safe Water Drinking Act Does Not Preempt 1983

The Court of Appeal found that SWDA does not actually preempt claims under section 1983. It engaged in a review of the legislative intent of the SWDA and found that the history failed to show an express intent of congress to prevent other claims, such as those brought under 1983.

The court specifically explained that even though the remedial scheme provided in the SWDA provides some relief, that remedial scheme is not sufficient to preempt claims under sections 1983, nor 1985. Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, sovereign immunity only allows the individual defendants, and the city, to be held liable. While the plaintiffs were requesting injunctive relief, which is one of the ways to get around the immunity issue, the court did not find the request to be sufficiently detailed to suffice.

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