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Michigan Officials Denied Immunity Again in Flint Water Case

By George Khoury, Esq. on January 08, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Flint water crisis is likely to be remembered as one of the worst public disasters caused by a local government in the state of Michigan's history.

And while several lawsuits have been filed, one recently made it back from the Sixth Circuit with bad news for several of the government officials named as defendants. The appellate court affirmed the lower court's ruling that certain officials and the state were not immune, but it also reversed the holding in favor of some other officials.

Leaded Water

The allegations in the underlying case involve the injuries and damages sustained by a Flint resident and her daughter due to consuming and bathing in the lead-tainted water. Claims for negligence as well as under 42 USC 1983 were brought, and the defendants moved for dismissal based upon qualified immunity.

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the lower court's denial of qualified immunity in favor of the individual defendants only facing claims of negligence. The majority opinion explains that since negligence is not a constitutional violation, qualified immunity applied to those defendants only. The other defendants, and state, were not so fortunate.

Notably, the 2-1 panel decision includes a dissent which seems to chastise the majority for accepting the plaintiffs' allegations as true to create a "grossly exaggerated version" of events. The plaintiffs allege that a state agency considered the Flint residents as "guinea pigs" to test lead compliance theories.

The dissent laments that the majority opinion "turns qualified immunity on its head" and that "[this ruling] effectively convert[s] the rule of qualified immunity . . . into a rule of virtually unqualified liability."

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