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Federal Court Rules in Favor of State Defendants in 3 Federal Benton Harbor Cases, Dismissing Claims
September 28, 2023
LANSING – Today, the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan dismissed all claims against State defendants in three federal cases seeking damages from state agencies and officials over lead contamination in the water supply of the city of Benton Harbor, announced Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. The lead contamination was neither caused nor exacerbated by state actors. State defendants being defended by the Department of Attorney General include Governor Whitmer, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other state officials. The dismissal of these lawsuits will not interfere with the ongoing state efforts to assist the people of Benton Harbor, nor interfere with the progress in replacing lead service lines in Benton Harbor, where 99.8% of lead service lines have been replaced under state oversight.
Today’s ruling by Judge Hala Jarbou was preceded by Magistrate Phillip J. Green’s June 1st issuance of his Report and Recommendations, which recommended dismissal of the three federal class action lawsuits, Daretha Braziel v Whitmer, Iesah Mitchell v City of Benton Harbor, and Dwayne Grant v EPA. The three lawsuits were brought by numerous residents of Benton Harbor. The residents alleged the named state agencies and officials failed to warn city residents about the toxicity in the city’s drinking water, contrary to well documented outreach and notices, and raised several due process claims the Court found insufficiently supported.
“Today's ruling reflects the State’s proactive response to the water contamination in Benton Harbor,” said Nessel. “99.8% of all lead service lines have been replaced under state oversight and the state continues to engage residents on the quality of their water. This case of lead contamination was not due to acts of the state, as affirmed by the Court today. State officials immediately acted to their best abilities to remediate the situation when they learned of elevated lead levels.”
Though no amount of lead is safe to ingest, tests of Benton Harbor’s water showed a lead level in exceedance of the federal regulatory threshold. State of Michigan officials have been working since 2018 to help Benton Harbor repair its aging infrastructure, work that began even before the city’s water samples revealed the elevated lead levels.