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A Sensible Reaction from Columbus, Ohio

From the Columbus Dispatch:

"Most everybody pinned their hopes on how Rhode Island moved," said Columbus City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr. "I think it's fair to say, with Rhode Island's decision, we'll have to seriously re-evaluate this case and see if it should continue."

The city estimates that cleaning up 150,000 lead- contaminated homes could cost $1.7 billion.

"Obviously, this ruling in Rhode Island does not bode well for our legal strategy," said Dan Williamson, spokesman for Mayor Michael B. Coleman.

Columbus sued paint manufacturers in December 2006, (mis)using public nuisance law in the process. (Search for the docket for case 06 CV 016480 here.) In March, 2008, U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. dismissed a suit filed by Sherwin-Williams that sought to block the city's litigation. (Columbus Dispatch story), so the city's suit is still alive. But in any case, the water-based writing is on the wall.

The Attorney General's office is not reacting as post-factually as the city attorney's office. The Dispatch quotes Jim Gravelle, an AG spokesman, saying, "This in no way restricts Ohio's right to hold lead paint companies liable for the extreme harm they have caused Ohio citizens under public nuisance or other causes of action."

We note the state's lawsuit was filed in 2007 by the disgraced, since-resigned AG, Marc Dann. His judgment obviously proved lacking in many things; the current, appointive AG could certainly renounce the lawsuit with no political harm, especially since she's not seeking the office in the fall election. And ultimately, it was politics that drove the suit.

P.S. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer editorially called on the state and cities to face reality and give up the suits: "Paint companies should continue helping struggling cities abate this expensive problem, but those are deals to be struck at a negotiating table, not in a courtroom."

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.