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Prominent Baltimore attorney brings class-action lawsuit against Flint officials over water contamination

Attorney who won $6.4M for Freddie Gray's family is now suing Flint, Michigan over water contamination

Prominent Baltimore attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr. — who recently won a $6.4 million settlement for the family of Freddie Gray — has brought a federal class-action lawsuit against state and local officials in Flint, Michigan over the contamination of the city's drinking water.

The lawsuit, filed by Murphy and Flint attorney Val Washington in U.S. District Court in eastern Michigan on Sunday, calls for the city and state to refund $150 million in water bills paid by affected Flint residents and businesses during the time the city's water was being drawn from the Flint River. Officials have said the decision to start drawing drinking water from the river in 2014 resulted in lead contamination.

Murphy, who was in Flint on Tuesday to announce the decision, told The Baltimore Sun that the lawsuit also seeks additional compensation for "all of the damages that are a consequence of having to be forced to use dangerous water," and that the total amount sought will be "more than $150 million, significantly more, because it includes the cost of changing the interior plumbing in every house, and hot water heaters."

Gov. Rick Snyder declared an emergency in Flint early last month, and the state set aside $28 million for providing residents with bottled water and other services. President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for the state as well, clearing the way for federal aid.

The city has returned to Detroit's water system, but officials remain concerned that damage to Flint pipes caused by the Flint River water could allow them to continue leaching lead into the city's drinking water. Lead exposure can cause learning disabilities and other behavioral problems in children.

Some residents in Flint who have been tested since the contamination have shown elevated blood lead levels. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has said his office will investigate to determine if any Michigan laws were violated.

The lawsuit names as defendants the city of Flint and its former mayor, Dayne Walling, as well as the state of Michigan and Snyder. It also names two Flint emergency managers, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, as well as the Michican Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

State and city officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The lawsuit claims the city and state violated the residents' rights by providing them with contaminated water and then telling them the water was safe. It also accuses the officials of the "far more insidious" act of conspiring to cover up the problem even as residents were being poisoned.

Among the plaintiffs are Beatrice Boler, a married mother of two from Flint whose family received contaminated water, and Pastor Edwin Anderson and Mrs. Alline Anderson, home owners in Flint who also received contaminated water. A local Flint business is also named as a plaintiff.

Murphy is no stranger to high-profile cases.

Gray, 25 — who suffered lead poisoning as a child himself — suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in Baltimore police custody in April. His death sparked widespread protests, and his funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson that attracted international attention to the case.

Murphy never filed a lawsuit in the Gray case, but negotiated with Baltimore officials on behalf of Gray's family — eventually agreeing to the $6.4 million settlement in September.

krector@baltsun.com

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