The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up a pair of cases arising from the 2014 Flint water crisis, allowing city residents to pursue a lawsuit against city and state officials over the water contamination.
The justices rejected two petitions filed by Flint regulators and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that sought review of a ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed cases stemming from the water crisis to proceed.
Flint residents who were exposed to contaminated water argued city and state officials violated their constitutional right to bodily integrity. In a filing with the Supreme Court, they said they seek to hold accountable government officials who "personally caused, extended, and exacerbated Flint's water crisis."
But city and state officials sought to toss out the claims against them, arguing they should be shielded from being sued. A federal district court and the 6th Circuit, however, sided with residents.
In a filing with the Supreme Court, lawyers for state officials argued they "did not intentionally or purposefully inject plaintiffs with lead or force them to ingest anything."
"They were doing the best they could in difficult circumstances with limited information certified by Flint as accurate and in compliance with lead and copper mandates," the state officials argued.
The Flint water crisis arose after state and local officials changed the city's water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which was known to be more corrosive. Government officials failed to treat the water to reduce corrosive effects on old pipes.
As a result, Flint residents were exposed to water tainted with lead. A dozen people died after the contaminated water led to an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease. Roughly 25,000 people have sued over the water crisis.