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Snyder’s lawyers argue Flint lawsuit filed too late

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Lawyers for Gov. Rick Snyder want a proposed class action lawsuit filed by Flint residents over water contamination dismissed because it was not filed within six months of the city’s April 2014 water switch.

Filed Monday in the Michigan Court of Claims, Snyder’s attorneys argue that plaintiffs Melissa Mays and nine other Flint residents filed their claim for damages on Jan. 15, 2016, when the “cause of action” occurred — use of the Flint River water without corrosion treatment — on April 25, 2014.

The lawsuit says either the claim itself or a notice of intent to file the claim must be filed within six months of the event that gave rise to the cause of action.

“Plaintiffs did not give timely notice of their claims. There is no legal basis for extending the notice period,” the complaint said.

Mays sued Snyder, the Michigan departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services as well as two of Flint’s former emergency managers — Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose — seeking damages for living in a city with a poisoned water system.

In their motion for summary disposition, attorneys for Snyder and others say the Flint water crisis is a significant and serious public health issue.

“Some may view this lawsuit as an appropriate response to the public-health crisis confronting Flint and the State. But these concerns do not displace the requirements of our judicial system,” the suit reads.

“Parties must give the State adequate notice before filing suit. And even where such notice is given, the party still must state a claim on which relief can be granted in avoidance of State Defendants’ immunity. With those requirements in mind, this lawsuit is not the proper mechanism to resolve Flint’s water crisis.”

The purpose of the notice requirement, attorneys say, is “not only to provide potential plaintiffs the assurance that their claim is timely, but to, among other things, notify the State where to invest limited state resources in anticipation of litigation.”

The state health department downplayed independent research suggesting a rise in lead exposure among Flint children as late as September 2015, a finding it would later confirm on or about Oct. 1, prompting an elevated response from the Snyder administration.

Deborah A. La Belle, attorney for Mays and the other plaintiffs, said Snyder’s claims are disingenuous. Her clients filed their lawsuit when they became aware of the problem.

“There are questions of fraudulent concealment (by the governor) and I don’t think you can claim on the one hand people have not timely filed when you concealed the information that would later lead them to the danger,” La Belle said.

“I would ask the governor why he didn’t take steps earlier to raise the issue,” she said.

Mays filed her lawsuit in the Court of Claims after filing similar lawsuit in U.S. District Court and in Genesee County Circuit Court.

Mays’ federal case was the first to seek class action status on behalf of Flint residents.

The federal suit claims state and local officials failed to properly monitor and sample the water and delayed notifying the public of serious safety and health risks.

“For more than 18 months, state and local government officials ignored irrefutable evidence that the water pumped from the Flint River exposed the Plaintiffs and the Plaintiff Class to extreme toxicity, causing serious and dire injury and health hazards, and property damage to the Flint water users,” the federal suit reads.

jchambers@detroitnews.com