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Flint water suit hits roadblock in federal court

Apr 19, 2016

Credit steve carmody / Michigan Radio

A federal judge may have dealt a serious blow to people suing over the Flint water crisis.

U.S. District judge John Corbett O’Meara dismissed the class-action suit after finding the claims made by Flint residents couldn’t be resolved in federal court. 

At issue are claims made by the plaintiffs in the case that their constitutional rights and state law were violated by being required to pay for water that turned out to be tainted with lead. They believed that would fall under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

While the act would allow them to pursue injunctive relief, for example, the court could order the city to switch away from the Flint River, and the plaintiffs would not be able to pursue damages. 

Judge O’Meara suggested the plaintiffs take their lawsuit to state court. 

The ruling could affect other federal lawsuits filed in the Flint water crisis. 

Attorney Val Washington filed the potential class-action lawsuit on behalf of three Flint families. He says they are reviewing their options.

“The options are we can go to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and ask them to tell us whether or not they agree with Judge O’Meara and his dismissal,” says Washington. “And/or, we can go to state court as well.”

Washington admits either way, “It delays our pursuit of justice for our clients.”

Dozens of lawsuits have been filed in federal and state courts in the months since it was discovered corrosive water was damaging city pipes, which in turn have been leaching lead into the drinking water.

A task force created by Gov. Rick Snyder laid much of the blame for Flint’s water crisis on state government. 

Many of the lawsuits target the governor and other state officials. Other defendants include city officials and private companies that played a role in the decision to switch Flint’s drinking water source or did not recommend the use of anti-corrosive chemicals on the river water.