Flint, MI–Before the $641.25 million water lawsuit settlement was preliminarily approved by U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy, Flint residents put up a fight.
Her decision in January came after months of debate at Flint City Council meetings, multiple protests by local activists, virtual conversations, and petitions.
Residents, lawyers, and council people voiced concerns about the settlement amount, proof of injury requirements, and the fact that the City of Flint, which was under emergency management at the time of the water crisis, has to be a defendant in the lawsuit.
But now that it’s been preliminarily approved, Flint residents have until March 29 to opt in or opt out. Those who opt in also have the opportunity to voice their concerns to Judge Levy about the fairness of the settlement by filing objections. March 29 is also the deadline for objections to be received. Judge Levy is holding a public hearing July 12 to determine the fairness of the settlement, and listen to objections.
The State of Michigan announced the settlement, which would resolve all litigation related to the water crisis against the State of Michigan, the City of Flint, Rowe Engineering, and McLaren Hospital, in August of last year.
The settlement prioritizes children, with 79.5% of funds allocated to minors, 15% for adults, 3% for property owners, and 2% for special education services in Genesee County, and 0.5% will go to business and economic loss. The terms of the settlement are detailed in a 71-page agreement which can be viewed online here.
The objection process hasn’t been as publicly talked about as the registration process.
Councilman Eric Mays said he thinks this is by design.
“When you get a white packet in the mail, and the objections have to be in before the 29th of March, no form,” Mays said. “I don’t think that’s an accident, I think it’s by design to play a game on the community that’s been devastated.”
On March 17, Councilman Mays and Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter held a press conference to inform the public about how to object, and share physical copies of objection forms they created to assist residents in filing their objections.
“While I believe the settlement is a slap in the face, and it is another way to devalue this community, devalue the people in the city of Flint, we must now stand together to make sure that the judge hears our voices,” Winfrey-Carter said. “We must send in these objection forms.”
The two councilmembers designed the form using the objection instructions in the settlement packet with the help of local Attorney Brenda Williams. Mays said he asked settlement attorneys Ted Leopold and Michael Pitt for help filing objections and they declined.
The form includes information about the fairness hearing, space for the resident to list any of their own personal objections, as well as a list of pre-written objections that Winfrey-Carter and Mays came up with.
They object to certain terms of the settlement, the percentage of funds that will go towards attorney fees, the two-month registration period, minimal contact with attorneys due to COVID-19, and more.
“I don’t want people to get misunderstood…we are not a group of radicals,” Mays said. “We are a group of people who are exercising our right to be heard, whether it makes a difference or not.”
Attorney Williams concurred, and said that objections are “part of the procedural process on the class action settlement.”
“It’s just that I don’t think the community understood what their rights…are in this particular case,” she said. “So they’re not being radical, they’re just taking advantage of what is already legally there for them to do.”
According to the settlement documents (you can view them here) on page 15, the objections must be in writing and include a detailed statement/ of your objections, specific reasons for them, your printed name, address, telephone number, date of birth, and written evidence establishing that you are a settlement class member. It must also include “any other supporting papers, materials, or briefs you wish the Federal Court to consider when reviewing the objection,” and your dated signature, not an electronic signature.
The document also says that your objection must be filed with the Clerk of the Court by first-class United States Mail so that it is received no later than March 29, 2021. The address of the Court is: Clerk of the Court United States District Court Eastern District of Michigan 231 W. Lafayette Blvd., Room 599 Detroit, MI 48226.
Mays said because of that deadline, residents can drop off their objections at the Kenneth M. Scott law office located at 2702 Flushing Road by March 26, and they will mail all of the objections to the court using express overnight shipping.
Residents can also go to that law office to pick up a physical copy of the objection form, or download it here to print and fill out:
Mays and Winfrey-Carter will be holding a virtual town hall March 18, at 6 p.m. to go over the objection form, and other settlement documents. It will be streamed on Arthur Woodson’s Facebook page.