From Brandie Jefferson of the Projo’s 7-to-7 blog…
The Rhode Island Supreme Court today reversed a lower court’s judgments in favor of the state in its suit against companies that manufactured and sold lead paint in Rhode Island.
The court reversed the Superior Court’s decision calling for Millennium Holdings, NL Industries and Sherwin-Williams to participate in an abatement program to clean houses that may have cost the companies upwards of $2.4 billion.
The complete opinion
is available online. Here is the court’s decision on the central issue
, that the case against Millennium Holdings, NL Industries and Sherwin-Williams should have been dismissed…
For the reasons set forth herein, we reverse the judgment of the Superior Court as to the liability of defendants, Millennium, NL, and Sherwin-Williams, because we conclude that the trial justice erred by denying defendants’ motion to dismiss. More specifically, we conclude that the state has not and cannot allege any set of facts to support its public nuisance claim that would establish that defendants interfered with a public right or that defendants were in control of the lead pigment they, or their predecessors, manufactured at the time it caused harm to Rhode Island children.
In reaching this conclusion, we do not mean to minimize the severity of the harm that thousands of children in Rhode Island have suffered as a result of lead poisoning. Our hearts go out to those children whose lives forever have been changed by the poisonous presence of lead. But, however grave the problem of lead poisoning is in Rhode Island, public nuisance law simply does not provide a remedy for this harm. The state has not and cannot allege facts that would fall within the parameters of what would constitute public nuisance under Rhode Island law. As set forth more thoroughly herein, defendants were not in control of any lead pigment at the time the lead caused harm to children in Rhode Island, making defendants unable to abate the alleged nuisance, the standard remedy in a public nuisance action. Furthermore, the General Assembly has recognized defendants’ lack of control and inability to abate the alleged nuisance because it has placed the burden on landlords and property owners to make their properties leadsafe.