Last Thursday, the Michigan Court of Claims ruled that residents of Flint may sue the state government for damages relating to the Flint water crisis.  

The crisis began in April 2014, when the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality switched the city’s water source from Lake Huron — which also services Detroit — to the Flint River. Because the Flint River water was more corrosive, lead from the popes leached into the water, exposing residents to poisioning.

Residents initally filed a suit on January 21 against Gov. Rick Snyder (R) Michigan’s departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services as well as two former Flint emergency managers. In it, the residents stated the parties knew about the crisis for months before taking action.

In the decision written by Judge Mark T. Boonstra, the court dismissed two constitutional challenges brought forth against the state. These charges were in regards to the definition of a “state-created danger” and “fair and just treatment.”

However, Boonstra upheld two other legal challenges. One was in regard to the denial of the right to due process clause of the U.S. Constitution, and the other was about the state’s role in the direct cause of personal injury. These challenges that were upheld empower Flint residents to sue the state government.

The court also made important jurisdictional distinctions regarding the Emergency Management Law. This law, which empowers Michigan’s governor to appoint an emergency manager to handle the financial recovery of a city, was applied by Snyder in Flint when he appointed Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose as emergency managers in 2013 and 2015.

Boonstra noted that because Earley and Ambrose were appointed by the state to oversee the management of Flint prior to the Flint water crisis, Earley was acting as a state official and not a municipal authority. This, according to Boonstra, made the state open to restorative litigation.

“For the foregoing reasons, and at all times relevant to this action, defendants Earley and Ambrose acted as state officers while executing their duties as an emergency manager,” Boonstra said. “Consequently, (the Michigan Court of Claims) has jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ claims against the former emergency managers.”

Both Earley and Ambrose are listed as defendants in the suit, filed by seven Flint residents.  Also listed as defendants are Gov. Snyder, the State of Michigan, the MDEQ and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

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