Michigan denies Flint right to sue state over water contamination

Flint, Michigan Mayor Karen Weaver. © Alex Wong / Getty Images / AFP 
A sneaky move by Michigan removed Flint’s ability to hold state officials accountable for actions resulting in the city’s water supply being laced with lead. The new policy would require the state’s permission to be sued, which is unlikely.

Mere days after receiving notice from Mayor Karen Weaver about her possible intention to sue Michigan on behalf of the city of Flint, Michigan changed the rules. While Weaver did not have plans to sue the state, she filed her intent to sue so that the door could be open.

However, the state-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board still controls part of the city’s policies. With all of the five members on the board appointed by Michigan Governor Rick Synder (R), the board quickly slammed the door on the lawsuit by requiring their approval for any lawsuits, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The board was developed to ensure “a smooth transition" from Flint’s emergency management system by reviewing "major financial and policy decisions ... to ensure that they maintain fiscal and organizational stability,” the Free Press reported.

Flint has not been under an emergency manager since April 2015, but the board was still an arm of the state’s control over the city.

The resolution from the board “clarified that its approval was required before the settlement or initiation of litigation," Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Snyder, told the Free Press on Friday.

Mayor Weaver filed the intent to sue on March 24. Rules from the State of Michigan in the Court of Claims require that all intents to sue be filed within 180 days of the time they become aware of a potential claim. The 24th was the 180th day.

Weaver explained in a statement that she had no plans to file a lawsuit, but said "I needed to preserve the city's right to pursue a legal remedy if it is determined a lawsuit is necessary in the future.

The move was bucked by the state. House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) said “a reckless lawsuit could throw the state budget into disarray and undermine everything we’ve done for the city."

Both Cotter and a spokesperson for Snyder called on Weaver to withdraw the lawsuit that would have required Michigan to be responsible for the debts incurred from handling the water contamination.

However, Weaver stood her ground and claimed that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had practiced "grossly negligent oversight” and needed to safeguard the city’s rights to sue if things were not handled properly down the road, she told the Free Press in April.

In response to the board’s decision to block the city from suing, she told the Free Press that she was “disappointed to learn of the timing,” but remained hopeful that this "is a sign of their intent to ensure the City of Flint is indemnified for any and all debts and obligations imposed upon the city while under state control.

"I will continue to do everything within my power to safeguard the city,” she added.