Federal Judge Dismisses Flint Residents' $150 Million Class-Action Lawsuit

The judge said the class-action lawsuit will need to be refiled in state court.

ByABC News
April 19, 2016, 6:25 PM

— -- A federal judge in Detroit has dismissed a $150 million class-action lawsuit filed by Flint residents and one Flint business, suggesting the plaintiffs refile in a Michigan state court due to lack of jurisdiction.

In a decision issued today, Judge John Corbett O'Meara said because the plaintiffs didn't file a claim under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the case should be tried in state court.

The case sought $150 million in damages for all Flint residents who paid water bills between April 2014 and November 2015. It also sought compensation to replace all waterlines damaged in every Flint home, according to a complaint filed on Jan. 31.

The lawsuit was filed against the city of Flint, the state of Michigan and several key players in the Flint water crisis, including former Mayor Dayne Walling, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, former Emergency Managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“This was a procedural dismissal by the judge,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Valdemar L. Washington, told ABC News. “We think he’s wrong in his decision, obviously, because the Safe Drinking Water Act does not contain pre-emption language” that would allow for damages to be awarded to those affected in the water crisis.

The reason why the plaintiffs didn’t file under the Safe Drinking Water Act is because the only relief it provides is prospective injunctive relief, Washington said, which would mean the plaintiffs would only get an injunction to stop the city of Flint from supplying contaminated waster to its residents. You can not be awarded damages under the act.

The complaint alleged that the defendants deprived Flint residents of safe and potable water, failed to act for the welfare of the general public and acted in gross negligence by failing to address a dangerous environmental hazard -- the lead leaching from corroded pipes into the water supply.

In addition, the complaint said the city "actively" discriminated against ordinary citizens and showed "preferential treatment" toward certain state employees, "who were specifically aware of the degradation of water quality" and were provided with safe, potable drinking water alternatives "not available to the general public."

Complaints made by Flint residents regarding the health hazards in the water were ignored, according to the complaint, which also alleged the city of Flint misled residents on the dangers of the drinking water.

"Instead, citizens were simply expected to pay their monthly public utility water bills, while being delivered lead-poisoned and Legionella-[infected] water by the publicofficials and entities named on the caption above," the complaint stated.

On Monday, Snyder announced he would drink Flint's water for one month in an effort to show residents it is now safe, the Associated Press reported. The city is currently under a state of emergency.

The lead contamination started when Flint switched its water source from the Detroit River and began drawing its drinking water from the Flint River in April 2014.