Some state, Flint employees can be sued in water case

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

State and Flint municipal employees can be sued over the Flint’s lead-tainted water, but Gov. Rick Snyder and the state of Michigan have governmental immunity under Michigan law, a federal judge ruled Monday.

The sweeping 15-count lawsuit was brought by Flint resident Shari Guertin against the state, the city of Flint, Snyder and 13 other public officials, as well as two consulting firms involved in the water debacle.

Judge Judith E. Levy of U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor, in a 101-page ruling, dismissed many of the counts charged in the lawsuit, but agreed that the “bodily integrity” of Guertin and her child were violated when city residents were unknowingly exposed by to dangerous levels of lead in the city’s drinking water that officials were aware of but hid from the public.

“(T)he conduct of many of the individual governmental defendants was so egregious as to shock the conscience,” Levy wrote.

Levy dismissed that count against Snyder, the state of Michigan, and the Departments of Environmental Quality and Health and Human Services, as well as for Michael Glasgow, Flint Water Treatment Plant operator, and Patrick Cook, water treatment specialist.

Though Levy ruled none of the state employees can be sued in their official capacity, she said some — including Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells and MDHHS Director Nick Lyon and others — can be sued as individuals. Flint officials have no state governmental immunity.

“As this case highlights, the more governmental actors that are involved in causing a massive tort in Michigan, the less likely it is that state tort claims can proceed against the individual government actors given the way the state immunity statutes operate,” she wrote.

“Because the harm that befell plaintiffs was such a massive undertaking, and took so many government actors to cause, the perverse result is that none can be held responsible under state tort law.”

Representatives for Snyder and Guertin could not immediately be reached for comment Monday night.