Sunday, July 30, 2017
The Sixth Circuit ruled on Friday that most of two suits against the State of Michigan, state officers, Flint, and Flint officials for creating the ongoing water crisis can move forward. The ruling is a significant victory for the plaintiffs and all residents of Flint. It reverses a lower court and means that much of the original case can move to discovery.
The two consolidated cases arose when residents of Flint sued the state, the city, and state and city officials for a variety of constitutional claims for creating the water crisis that continues to plaque the city. The district court dismissed the cases on several grounds, but the Sixth Circuit on Friday reversed much of that ruling.
The court ruled first that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act did not displace the plaintiffs' constitutional claims under Section 1983. In particular, the court said that the language and legislative history of the SDWA did not point to displacement, that the SDWA's remedial scheme is not so comprehensive as to demonstrate congressional intent to preclude, and that the "contours of the rights and protections" under 1983 are different than those under the SDWA. The court went on to rule that the SDWA similarly did not displace the plaintiffs' conspiracy claim under Section 1985.
The court also ruled that the Eleventh Amendment barred claims against the State of Michigan and, in one of the two cases, against state agencies and Governor Snyder. (It noted that Eleventh Amendment immunity doesn't cover municipalities--Flint and Flint officials.) The court said that the plaintiffs in the other case sought injunctive relief against the agencies and Snyder, and could therefore move forward under Ex Parte Young. The court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the defendants waived their Eleventh Amendment immunity based on their positions in this litigation.
Finally, the court rejected the defendants' other arguments, including absolute and qualified immunity defenses for agency officials.