In October 2017, Flint resident and mother Shari Guertin filed a lawsuit against the Michigan city for inflicting harm upon her and her child by supplying them with toxic drinking water. On Friday (January 4), a Michigan appellate court upheld her right to move forward with the case.
The lawsuit, according to ThinkProgess, alleges that Guertin and her child had their “bodily integrity” violated when they were exposed to lead-contaminated water without being warned by officials. The plaintiffs claim personal injuries and damages from drinking and bathing in the water.
The Flint Water crisis began with the majority-Black city’s April 2014 decision to switch Flint’s water source from the Great Lakes Water Authority to the Flint River. According to The New York Times, “One study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2016 found that the percentage of Flint children with elevated levels of lead in their blood doubled after the switch, which has also been linked to 12 fatal cases of Legionnaires’ disease.” In addition, there has been a decrease in fertility and an increase in infant deaths as a result of the lead.
In April 2018, the state ended its free bottled water distribution program to the city’s residents, despite concerns that the drinking water was still not fully safe.
Guertin’s lawsuit initially brought 15 counts against the state, the city and various public officials. In June, a judge in the United States District Court of Ann Arbor dismissed her case against then-governor Rick Snyder and the state—ruling that they were protected by immunity.
According to MLive:
The city of Flint claimed it should be exempt from litigation under the 11th Amendment, which grants a state immunity from being sued in federal court by individuals. The city argued it was an arm of the state because it was under the control of state-appointed emergency managers when the water supply was switched.
The court ruled the city has no such immunity and was acting as its own body during the water crisis.
Attorneys Theodore J. Leopold and Michael Pitt, who are co-lead class counsel for a group of class action lawsuits brought on behalf of Flint residents and businesses, said in a statement, “The court’s decision is clear, the city of Flint does not get a free pass for reckless behavior and violating the constitutional rights of the citizens of Flint. This is another victory for the people of Flint who have suffered and been ignored long enough by city and state officials.”