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Rhode Island lead paint: big win for defense



Word is coming in that the Rhode Island Supreme Court, reversing a lower court, has ruled against the creative public nuisance theory suit seeking to hold companies that made lead paint and pigments decades ago liable for billions of dollars in housing cleanup costs. Ted is also covering the story at Overlawyered. (And see Mike Krauss's post just below.)

More 10:30 a.m.: The court was unanimous and ruled "that the lawsuit should have been dismissed at the outset". Defendants now have a statement up:

"Today's ruling is a landmark victory for common sense and for responsible companies that did the right thing," said Charles H. Moellenberg, Jr., an attorney for The Sherwin-Williams Company, speaking on behalf of defendants Sherwin-Williams and Millennium Holdings, Inc. "This case never should have been filed - it was factually wrong and legally flawed. A company should not be held liable when there is no proof that it did anything wrong. It has taken nine years and two juries, but the Supreme Court's decision today puts public nuisance law in Rhode Island squarely in line with the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions of the United States."


For the aromatic politics behind the suit, including the role of South Carolina law firm Motley Rice (formerly Ness Motley), see OL, Jun. 7, 2001. For some background on the disputed epidemiology behind the controversy, see OL, Jun. 8-10, 2001. Eight and a half years ago, flush with billions in tobacco and asbestos fees, Ron Motley vowed, "If I don't bring the entire lead paint industry to its knees within three years, I will give them my [120-foot] boat".

11:00 a.m.: From Mealey's Litigation Report -- Lead (sub):

Moreover, the Supreme Court said that there was no set of facts alleged in the state's complaint that, even if proven, could have demonstrated that the defendants' conduct, however unreasonable, interfered with a public right. The court also said that Superior Court Justice Michael A. Silverstein, "however well intentioned, departed from the traditional requirements of common law public nuisance."

Also reversed in today's opinion was the contempt finding against Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick J. Lynch relating to comments he made to a reporter during the trial. The court did, however, recognize "the validity of certain contingency fee agreements between the attorney general and outside counsel."

More from Lexis/Nexis /Mealey's here.

11:30 a.m.: Jim Copland's 2006 column on the case is here. And the suit also scored highly on Stuart Taylor, Jr.'s "Index of Completely Worthless Lawsuit Indicators".

1:00 p.m.: Per James Cordrey and Lexis/Mealey's, paint company defendants may try to recover costs from the state. Lisa Rickard and Robin Conrad of the U.S. Chamber have a statement applauding the decision. Lots of coverage at Jane Genova's Law and More, including a telling Benjamin Cardozo quote.

3:00 p.m.: Motley Rice has a statement up, with volume dialed way high in its denunciation of the state high court. As the justices must be aware, the law firm has spent years building its political clout in the state.

5:00 p.m.: NAM's John Engler, in a statement: "The Court's decision is similar to decisions by Supreme Courts in Missouri, New Jersey and Illinois and adds to the momentum toward rejecting product-based public nuisance claims."

7:30 p.m.: The court's opinion at its site, PDF. Beck and Herrmann have what Ted hails as the best analysis. And PoL's Carter Wood has comprehensive coverage of the decision at NAM's ShopFloor.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.