Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was dismissed as a defendant in a class action lawsuit brought by residents of Flint over the water contamination crisis that has plagued the city and state since 2014.
U.S. District Judge Judith E. Levy dismissed several other defendants on Wednesday as well.
In her decision Wednesday, Levy dismissed at least six defendants from the case, including Snyder, the State of Michigan, former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant, Flint Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services official Nancy Peeler.
Levy wrote that the state of Michigan is entitled to sovereign immunity and said the plaintiffs failed to prove that Snyder was aware of the problems with Flint’s water.
“Plaintiffs have alleged that other defendants involved in the top-level decisions surrounding the switch to the Flint River knew of and disregarded risks to the health and safety of Flint’s water users,” Levy wrote. “But they have not made those same allegations with regard to Governor Snyder.”
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, decried the judge’s decision as a miscarriage of justice:
"Gov. Snyder’s negligence led to the worst man-made disaster in our state’s history," Ananich said in a statement. "The fact that he is shielded from being held accountable is another crime in and of itself."
Levy also dismissed claims regarding “state-created danger, civil rights violations, fraud, negligence and gross negligence.”
In dismissing the claims of state-created danger, Levy said the case didn’t fit the claim, which requires proof that the state created or increased the risk of harm from a third party. But she acknowledged the toll the water contamination took on residents, who were “made to use contaminated water that leached lead and bacteria from old lines.”
Levy noted the water crisis in Flint remains “unresolved” and is the subject of seven pending state and federal lawsuits.
“Litigation is prolonged, fact-dependent, and constrained by legal precedent that may be ill-suited to deal with the consequences of approximately one hundred thousand people drinking contaminated water,” the judge wrote.
Michael Pitt, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said despite the judge’s decision, "the heart of the case is very much alive and well.”
“With this ruling, the pace of the case will pick up dramatically so that there will be no further delays in getting our clients the justice to which they are entitled," Pitt said in a statement Wednesday.