BENTON HARBOR — A third class-action lawsuit has been filed regarding higher-than-acceptable levels of lead in some of Benton Harbor’s tap water.
However, this one is different from the others.
The first two were federal lawsuits filed in November in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
This latest lawsuit was filed last week in the Michigan Court of Claims.
Another difference is who the defendants are.
The first two lawsuits were against state and city officials and entities, including the city of Benton Harbor and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The third lawsuit only lists as defendants the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and Eric Oswald, director of EGLE’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division.
In the latest lawsuit, Detroit attorney Nicholas Coulson represents a Benton Harbor business owner and three women, along with their four children, ages 1-14.
When contacted by phone Tuesday, Coulson said they decided to file the lawsuit in state court because they are alleging state constitutional claims against the state – not federal ones.
Coulson said they decided not to sue the city because they don’t want to make the situation worse.
“I don’t see the benefit of the residents of Benton Harbor, basically, suing themselves,” he said. “We think that the state is the most culpable party from whom relief can actually be had. … I’ve never seen the justification of an entire city suing that entire city.”
The lawsuit alleges that state officials “unilaterally took over and dictated the corrosion control treatment scheme that Benton Harbor was required to initiate.”
It states that even though the treatment wasn’t working, state officials required it to be continued and put off a corrosion control study, which was supposed to be done within six months of the city being put under a water advisory for having high levels of lead.
The lawsuit alleges thousands of Benton Harbor residents have been poisoned and deprived of their property rights “due to lead contaminated municipal drinking water invading their homes and bodies without consent.”
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Angel Guyton of Benton Harbor and her three children, Katie Lynn Reykjalin of Benton Harbor and one child, Jennifer Janssen-Rogers of Benton Harbor, and Brooke Rosenbaum of Coloma, who owns and operates Inner Glow Garden Supply at 420 E. Main in Benton Harbor.
Coulson said class-action lawsuits can take years to go through the court system.
More information and a link to the 44-page lawsuit can be found at www.bentonharborwater.com.
When contacted by phone, Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said he wasn’t aware of the latest lawsuit.
He said city officials are eagerly awaiting the results of a water filter study being done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to see if the filters the state has been handing out for almost three years have been adequately filtering out the lead. Those results are expected to be announced by February.
Scott Dean with EGLE said in an email that to his knowledge, no one at the state has been served the lawsuit, yet.
Coulson said that should be done by the end of the week.
Dean said the state will “likely have no comment on the pending litigation when we do get served.”
Benton Harbor has been required to test its tap water every six months since October 2018, when the city was put under a state advisory for its water samples testing as having 22 ppb as its 90th percentile. The federal action level is 15 ppb.
Since then, test results have been above the federal action level until the last round this fall, when the results were right at 15 ppb.