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Flint's elected leaders once again can sue the state over handling of water crisis

Oct 26, 2016

Flint’s elected leaders once again have the ability to file a lawsuit against the state for its handling of the city’s water crisis.

Today, the city’s state-appointed oversight board reversed a policy that effectively blocked the city from filing lawsuits.  

Back in March, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver filed a notice with the court, saying the city was potentially looking at suing the state of Michigan for decisions and mistakes made by state employees that led to Flint’s drinking water crisis.

But shortly after the notice was filed, the Receivership Transition Advisory Board, or RTAB, amended a rule so the city would need its approval to file such a suit. 

Board chairman Fred Headen says all the talk of the board banning the city from suing was inaccurate.

“It was not intended to prohibit the city from suing anyone, including the state of Michigan,” says Headen. 

The board’s decision to reverse the rule comes a day after Democratic members of Congress from Michigan formally asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the RTAB’s actions.

Stacy Erwin Oakes is Flint’s city attorney. She says just because the city can sue doesn’t mean it will.

“It’s always been the position of the mayor that we want to work with the state and federal agencies to do what’s in the best interests of the city,” says Erwin Oakes. “The filing of the notice was a legal requirement that was put in place that we did not want to waive.”

Since the city filed a notice of a potential lawsuit, the state of Michigan has given the city millions of dollars to pay for bottled water, filters, pipe replacement, water testing and other goods and services connected to the water crisis. 

Also during that time, nine government employees (eight current and former state employees and one former city employee) have been criminally charged for their roles in Flint’s water crisis. That investigation is ongoing. 

There are also more than 400 other lawsuits filed by Flint residents and others seeking damages.