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March 13, 2024

Flint’s water crisis began nearly ten years ago when the city switched its drinking water supply on April 25, 2014 

March 13, 2024

DETROIT, Mich. – A federal court held the City of Flint in contempt for violating a February 2023 federal court order requiring the city to reach certain milestones in its lead pipe replacement program.  

The City of Flint had originally agreed to replace all its old lead pipes by early 2020, but it still has not completed that work. In addition, there remain almost 2,000 homes where residents have been living with damaged properties—some for years—caused by the lead pipe replacement program. 

“The City has failed to abide by the Court’s orders in several respects, and that it has no good reason for its failures,” Judge David M. Lawson wrote for the court. “The City is in civil contempt of the Court’s order.” 

Plaintiffs in Concerned Pastors for Social Action v. Khouri filed the motion for contempt last May in the lead-contaminated drinking water case against the City of Flint and Michigan state officials. The court recognized that the City of Flint’s delays in finishing the service line replacement program are continuing to cause difficulties and hardship for Flint residents, some of whom have been waiting for years for the city to fix damaged sidewalks, curbs, and lawns on their properties caused by the lead pipe replacement work.  

The plaintiffs did not ask to recoup their attorneys’ fees and costs in connection with bringing this contempt motion. Nonetheless, Judge Lawson found it was appropriate to reimburse plaintiffs for the cost of bringing the City’s violations to the Court’s attention, if they file an appropriate request with the Court.  

The following are reactions from Flint resident and advocacy group plaintiffs in the case: 

“The court’s decision to hold the City of Flint in contempt reflects the depths of disgust and despair felt by Flint residents. We’ve only gotten this far because residents refuse to stop fighting for Flint,” said Melissa Mays, one of the plaintiffs in the case and Operations Manager of Flint Rising. “In order to see any real progress, Flint residents and our allies have had to prod this administration every step of the way. We should not continue to suffer because of this City’s failure to meet the judge’s orders and their own deadlines.” 

“We’ve waited almost 10 years for the water crisis nightmare to come to an end,” said Pastor Allen C. Overton of Concerned Pastors for Social Action, one of the plaintiffs in the federal drinking water case.  “While we are encouraged by Judge Lawson’s ruling, the true outcome we’re seeking is for the City of Flint to succeed in finishing the lead pipe replacement program, including by finishing the overdue work of repairing damage to residents’ properties caused by lead service line replacements. Court intervention has been the only way to hold the City to its promises, unfortunately.” 

“Residents are not asking the City of Flint to do the impossible,” said Addie Rolnick, an attorney with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and lawyer in the case. “They simply want officials to meet deadlines and finish the work the City already agreed to. Beyond the homes that may still require lead pipe replacement, the City needs to finish restoring these residential properties that have been damaged by the replacement work. We will continue to hold officials accountable until this work is fully done.” 

“We applaud the Court for holding the City accountable for the obligations they agreed to nearly seven years ago, to bring clean safe drinking water back to the City of Flint, ensure that residents’ lead pipes are replaced, and that their properties are restored. That work still needs to be completed and we will continue to monitor the City’s compliance to ensure the lead pipes are replaced and residential properties are restored,” said Bonsitu Kitaba, Deputy Legal Director for the ACLU of Michigan.    


Today’s ruling comes nearly a decade after the Flint water crisis began and nearly seven years after a major settlement was reached in the landmark citizen suit against the City of Flint and Michigan state officials. The 2017 settlement agreement initially mandated that Flint finish replacing lead service lines and restoring residents’ properties by January 2020. The deadline to finish the required excavations and pipe replacements (excluding restoration) was later extended to September 30, 2022, in part due to work stoppages related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Since then, the City has repeatedly failed to finish the work it agreed to on time, missing deadlines and failing to keep accurate records of whether and where it had fixed damage to residents’ properties caused by pipe replacements. Before the motion for contempt, the plaintiffs had to file five motions to enforce the settlement agreement. 

As a result of the fifth motion to enforce the settlement agreement, in February 2023 Judge Lawson ordered the City to finish pipe replacements by August 1, 2023 and to provide accurate reporting on its progress. The City’s records to date show that it missed this deadline and still hasn’t finished the required work. Judge Lawson explained after the February 2023 hearing that, “the City put itself in this position by its mismanagement of the service line replacement process.” 

Within weeks, the City of Flint began violating the February 2023 court order requiring it to reach certain critical milestones needed to finally finish lead pipe replacement and property restoration work. Among other violations, the City missed a key May 1, 2023 deadline to fill in the gaps in its tracking of restorations.  


NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Established in 1970, NRDC uses science, policy, law, and people power to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, Beijing and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd). Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.  

The ACLU of Michigan is a nonpartisan nonprofit that works to protect and expand the civil rights and civil liberties of all people.