A lawsuit brought by residents of Flint, Mich., who for months were supplied drinking water that was dangerously lead-contaminated and bacteria-laden, can go forward, an appeals court has ruled.
An appellate court on Friday, over the objections of some state and local officials, ruled that the federal lawsuit against the city of Flint and several Michigan state officials can proceed,.
The suit argues that Flint residents Shari Guertin and her child Diogenes Muse-Cleveland had their “bodily integrity” violated when they were exposed to lead-contaminated water without being warned by officials.
As M Live reported on Friday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled 2-1 that claims against former Flint Department of Public Works Director Howard Croft, and several other former officials who played a role in diverting the contaminated water supply to Flint homes.
Judge Richard Griffin, who wrote the majority opinion, also said the plaintiffs made a plausible due process argument in their pleadings to the court.
“This decision basically said we’re not stopping this case,” Sam Bagenstos, a civil rights lawyer who has worked on the case, told M Live. “It allows this case to move a step forward, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Claims against five other state employees were dismissed because the “plaintiff’s complaint alleges mere negligence and not a constitutional violation against them,” according to M Live.
The city of Flint, arguing it is an arm of the state, claimed it should be exempt from litigation under the 11th Amendment, which grants a state immunity from being sued in federal court by individuals, but the court ruled the city does not have immunity and was acting as its own body.
Four years after the water crisis in Flint began, the Michigan residents still do not have fully clean water and the crisis continues.
The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the town’s water source was switched to the Detroit River as a cost-saving measure. Insufficient water treatment allowed the water to become contaminated with lead, endangering around 100,000 people in the area and prompting a state of emergency in 2016. Some residents fell ill with Legionnaires Disease. The outbreak officially killed 12 people and sickened 90, but some experts believe that the number of people sickened was actually far greater.
A PBS Frontline investigation last year found that 119 people died of pneumonia during that period of time, with many of those cases potentially linked to the legionella bacteria. A 74-page report released by the Environmental Protection Agency’s watchdog called on the EPA to heighten oversight of state drinking water systems, pointing to “oversight lapses.”
Last April, the state suddenly ended Flint’s bottled water distribution program, and although the water quality has improved, it is not officially safe.
Newly-elected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed her first executive order last week in response to the crisis in Flint, requiring state employees to immediately report any public health or safety concerns to their bosses.