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Flint may be able to sue the state of Michigan without the state's permission after all

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

Michigan’s congressional Democrats sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice today asking for a review of a legal provision. The provision seemed to prevent the city of Flint from suing the state of Michigan without the state’s approval.

But it appears the state is prepared to strike that provision anyway. If it does, that could allow Flint to sue the state over the water crisis.

Back in April, the state-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board in Flint approved changes to a binding resolution. The changes included language that said any proposed “settlement or initiation of litigation… shall not be effective unless approved by the Board.”

The changes were made not long after the city filed an intent to sue, a sort of formality that would allow the city to file a case if it decided to later.

Department of Treasury spokeswoman Danelle Gittus says RTAB never meant to prohibit the city from suing the state.

“The intent wasn’t initially to prevent litigation,” Gittus said. “It was to require more collaboration on settlements. The new language clarifies this.”

According to documents on the Department of Treasury’s website, the RTAB plans to strike the word “or initiation” from this resolution. The city’s top finance officer would still need to give the RTAB an estimate of the financial impacts of any potential lawsuits the city filed.

“I mean obviously we’ve been raising this issue for some time,” Congressman Dan Kildee, D-Flint, said. He was not aware the RTAB planned to make the changes. The board’s agenda was posted to the Treasury’s website this afternoon.

“Maybe the idea that we would take it to the justice department for review has had some impact on that,” Kildee said, “Any objective observer would conclude that this provision is outrageous and perhaps they’ve finally come to their senses.”

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.