Flint, MI– Judge Judith Levy has just preliminarily approved the $641.25 million Flint water lawsuit settlement.

This decision comes after months of debate at Flint City Council meetings, public hearings with attorneys, multiple protests by local activists, and postponements of the decision by Levy herself.

Preliminary approval is just the first step in the settlement process. Now, claimants will have an opportunity to evaluate whether they would like to opt in to the settlement and begin making claims. People will also have the opportunity to object to the settlement or opt out and litigate their claims individually. 

“Litigation has its benefits, but also its limitations, and the preliminary  approval of this settlement does not affect or preclude other avenues of redress,” Levy wrote. “This litigation—however it concludes—need not be the final chapter of this remarkable story.”  

Levy had said she would be taking residents’ concerns about the settlement into account as she made her decision. She addressed those concerns in the written statement:

“Though the Court’s role in responding to these concerns is limited, these impacted individuals may join the settlement and still continue in the political process to seek the  justice they have told the Court this settlement does not provide,” Levy wrote. “Those  affected will have to decide whether the risks of litigation—and there are many—outweigh the benefit of a certain resolution with the Settling Defendants. The Court is sympathetic to the complexity of these decisions.”

She wrote that “there may be no amount of money that would fully recognize the harm the residents of Flint have experienced, including their anxiety, fear, distrust, and anger over the events of the last seven years.”

Levy also addressed a list of concerns submitted by the Flint City Council:

1) That the State of Michigan is contributing insufficient  funds;  

2) That the proof of injury requirements may be unduly  burdensome on some residents of the City of Flint;  

3) That the proposed Settlement Agreement should more  explicitly cover payment of water bills by the residents of the  City of Flint;  

4) That the proposed Settlement Agreement should allocate  Settlement Funds to cover claims for payment of water bills in an amount not less than 2%;  

5) That the City Council would prefer an additional two  months to consider and deliberate regarding the proposed  Settlement Agreement and conduct additional consultations.  

Levy wrote that “the Court does not have the power  or authority to impose additional terms, additional monetary amounts,  or a different allocation to an agreement reached between parties. ”

She also said documentation requirements are “straightforward and reasonable,” and that they “protect the funds from unlawful, ineligible, and inappropriate claims.”

Proof of injury has been a major topic in council meetings, as well as at protests, but Levy wrote that “the Court is confident that some degree of proof  is fair and in the best interest of all of those impacted by the Flint Water Crisis. “

In response to the council’s concern about including claims for payment of water bills, Levy wrote that “the property fund covers any type of economic-loss claim related  to the property—whether it be damage to pipes or payment of bills for water.”

With the concerns of residents and council noted, Levy listed the following reasons for choosing to preliminarily approve the settlement:

  1. Settlement Negotiations

In this reason, Levy explained the numerous cases, people, discussions, negotiations and data involved in the settlement.

She pointed to the negotiations held by the Subclass Settlement Counsel and Co-Liaison Counsel over how to allocate settlement funds among various categories, as well as the approval from the Flint City Council for the City to join the settlement, and the comprehensive oral report from Miriam Z. Wolock, the court-appointed guardian ad litem, who found the proposed settlement to be fair. 

  1. Procedural History

Levy wrote about the complex procedural history of the Flint Water Cases which fall into “several broad categories, as discussed above, in both  federal and state court, including putative class action cases, individual  cases, and legionella cases. “

She said that the Court is “very familiar with the factual allegations and the applicable law that governs these cases,” and has also “managed extensive discovery in these cases.”

“In sum, the Flint Water Cases are abundant, complex, and have  been intensely litigated,” Levy wrote. “The motion before the Court and the proposed settlement underlying it applies to all of these cases.”

  1.  The Proposed Settlement Agreement

Levy wrote that the settlement was preliminarily approved because it has, at this point, been determined to be fair. But, it will be examined again for fairness at the final approval. 

“In light of the  two-year negotiation process and strong representation of categories of  claims by Co-Liaison Counsel on behalf of Individual Plaintiffs and by  Subclass Settlement Counsel on behalf of the subclasses, each of whom  have provided declarations supporting the allocation and attesting to its fairness, the allocation among categories of claims is determined to be  fair,” Levy wrote. “The Court will revisit this determination at the final approval stage  should there be evidence submitted to challenge the current allocation of  settlement funds.”

She wrote that for final approval, the Court will be discussing the fairness of the provisions related to minors and legally incapacitated individuals first, and then the class and subclass portion of the settlement. Then the Court will address whatever responses and objections they receive. 

The written decision also outlined the deadlines for claims and objections, as well as important legal dates:

  • Registration must be done on or before March 29.
  • Request for exclusion must be done on or before March 29.
  • Objections must be done between Feb. 26 and on or before March 29.
  • The motion for Final Approval of the settlement will be on or before May 27.
  • The fairness hearing will be held on July 12.
  • The deadline for the claim form is on or before Aug. 26.

Forms and instructions can be found here. Levy’s 72-page written decision can be found here.

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...

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