University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Guertin v. State of Michigan PB-MI-0025
Docket / Court 16-cv-12412 ( E.D. Mich. )
State/Territory Michigan
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Case Summary
On June 27, 2016, a resident of Flint who drank and bathed in lead-contaminated water filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of herself and her minor child. (The complaint named, but did not describe, a second individual plaintiff who turned out ... read more >
On June 27, 2016, a resident of Flint who drank and bathed in lead-contaminated water filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of herself and her minor child. (The complaint named, but did not describe, a second individual plaintiff who turned out also to be a resident of Flint exposed to unsafe water.) The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, sued the City of Flint, the State of Michigan, and various government officials and private contractors under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. They sought general, compensatory and punitive damages, an order declaring the defendants’ conduct unconstitutional, equitable relief to remediate the harm they had suffered, and attorney’s fees. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants’ failure to provide safe drinking water and provision of deliberate misinformation about the safety of the drinking water violated their due process and common law rights. This case is one of many filed in response to the 2014 Flint water crisis, which occurred when Flint began to draw corrosive water from the Flint River to save money, exposing thousands to lead and other toxins.

Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants knew the water was contaminated yet continued to publicly state the water was safe. By so doing, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants showed deliberate indifference to their bodily integrity and property rights, breached their contract to provide safe water, breached the implied warranty that the water they sold was safe, and interfered with the plaintiffs’ ability to enjoy their home constituting a nuisance. In addition, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants’ failure to adequately test the water was negligent and the failure to provide safe drinking water was grossly negligent.

On October 27, 2016 the defendants moved to change venue, arguing that the overwhelming extent of adverse media coverage would make a fair and impartial jury nearly impossible in the Eastern District of Michigan. The defendants requested a venue change to an out of state metropolitan venue or the Northern Division of the Western District of Michigan, which they claimed was the least prejudicial venue in the Michigan.

In the following weeks all defendants moved to dismiss. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim; some defendants who were government officials sued in their official capacities raised immunity defenses and argued that the proprietary function exception to governmental immunity did not apply to the sale of water.

On January 23, 2017 the court (Judge Judith E. Levy) denied the motion to change venue. The court noted that plaintiffs can ordinarily choose the venue, the majority of the defendants lived nearby, and most of the evidence was in the area. It determined that a venue change so far before trial would be premature. 2017 WL 6390962.

On June 5, 2017, the court granted in part and denied in part the motions to dismiss. Judge Levy dismissed the plaintiffs’ breach of contract, breach of implied warranty, nuisance, trespass, gross negligence, professional negligence, IIED, and NIED claims. She also dismissed the plaintiff’s due process claims that related to property loss and state-created danger. Judge Levy also dismissed the plaintiffs’ bodily integrity claims as to the government defendants and officials acting within their official capacities and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim. But the plaintiffs’ bodily integrity claims against officials acting in their individual capacities and their ordinary negligence claims against the contractors survived. 2017 WL 2418007.

Meanwhile, Judge Levy indicated that she planned to consolidate all of the class action cases arising from the Flint water crisis. In this case, the plaintiffs moved for leave to add class allegations and consolidation with the other class actions on June 23. Judge Levy consolidated the class actions on July 27 with Waid v. Snyder. But she declined to consolidate this case, likely because it was not originally filed as a class action. As of November 2019, this case has not been consolidated.

Litigation also continued over the court’s decision on the motions to dismiss as various government officials appealed the district court’s decision denying them qualified immunity, and district court proceedings were stayed in October 2017 so that those appeals could proceed. 2017 WL 4875618. The Sixth Circuit (Judges Griffin and White, with Judge McKeague dissenting in part) largely affirmed the district court on January 4, 2019. The Sixth Circuit agreed that the plaintiffs had stated a claim for harm to bodily integrity against officials who were not entitled to qualified immunity, although it dismissed the claims against other officials against whom the plaintiffs had alleged only negligence. The Sixth Circuit also determined that Flint was not an “arm of the state,” which could have conferred additional immunity on some officials, despite being run by an emergency manager. 912 F.3d 907.

With the qualified immunity issue resolved, the case returned to the district court. The defendants filed an answer to the complaint, and the case is ongoing as of November 2019.

Nora Baty - 11/13/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Due Process: Procedural Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Defendant-type
Hospital/Health Department
Sanitation/Public Works
General
Government Services (specify)
Public benefits (includes, e.g., in-state tuition, govt. jobs)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
State law
Defendant(s) City of Flint
Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc.
State of Michigan
Veolia North America, LLC
Plaintiff Description Two residents of Flint who drank and bathed in contaminated water during the Flint water crisis.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filing Year 2016
Case Ongoing Yes
Docket(s)
5:16-cv-12412 (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0025-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/10/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint and Jury Demand [ECF# 1]
PB-MI-0025-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/27/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
MDEQ Defendants' Motion for Change of Venue *Oral Argument Requested* [ECF# 45]
PB-MI-0025-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/27/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order Denying Motion to Change Venue [45] Without Prejudice [ECF# 113] (2017 WL 6390962) (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0025-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 01/23/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order Denying the MDEQ Employee Defendants' Motion for Reconsideration [116] [ECF# 126] (2017 WL 6402993) (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0025-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 02/09/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order Granting in Part and Denying in Part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [50, 52, 59, 69, 70, 96, 102, 103, 105] [ECF# 151] (2017 WL 2418007) (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0025-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 06/05/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order Granting Defendant Veolla's Motion for Reconsideration [155], Denying Defendant Wyant's Motion for Reconsideration [159], and Granting Defendant Lockwood's Motion for Reconsideration [160] [ECF# 191] (2017 WL 2991768) (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0025-0006.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 07/14/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion and Order Granting Defendants' Motions to Stay [166, 169, 173] [ECF# 215] (2017 WL 4875618) (E.D. Mich.)
PB-MI-0025-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 10/30/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 240] (912 F.3d 907)
PB-MI-0025-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 01/04/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Griffin, Richard Allen (Sixth Circuit) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-0008
Levy, Judith Ellen (E.D. Mich.) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-0003 | PB-MI-0025-0004 | PB-MI-0025-0005 | PB-MI-0025-0006 | PB-MI-0025-0007 | PB-MI-0025-9000
McKeague, David William (W.D. Mich., Sixth Circuit) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-0008
White, Helene N. (Sixth Circuit) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-0008
Plaintiff's Lawyers Geske, Paul T. (Illinois) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Hart, David E. (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-0001 | PB-MI-0025-9000
Hart, Steven A. (Illinois) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
McLaughlin, Robert J. (Illinois) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Prior, John B. (Illinois) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Sawin, John S. (Illinois) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Berg, Frederick A. (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Bettenhausen, Margaret A. (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Driker, Eugene (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Eriksson, Reed E. (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Gambill, Nathan A. (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Kim, William Young (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Klein, Sheldon H. (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Kuhl, Richard S. (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Larsen, Zachary C. (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Mendel, Todd R. (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000
Witus, Morley (Michigan) show/hide docs
PB-MI-0025-9000

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