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October 16, 2018

California lead pigment litigation final after SCOTUS declines to hear defendant’s appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court declined defendants’ petition for certification in historic lead paint litigation, People v. Conagra Grocery Products Company, effectively exhausting defense appeals. By declining to hear the case, a series of lower court decisions stand, requiring three lead pigment companies, Sherwin-Williams Company, NL Industries, Inc., and ConAgra Grocery Products Company, to mitigate public harm by funding the removal toxic lead paint from pre-1951 constructed California homes.

Motley Rice attorneys, with co-counsel, have worked for 18 years to represent the claims of 10 California counties and cities: Santa Clara County, Alameda County and the City of Oakland, the City and County of San Francisco, the City of San Diego, Los Angeles County, Monterey County, San Mateo County, Solano County, and Ventura County.

“Year after year, the defendants in this case have done everything possible to delay doing what’s in the best interest of the people of California,” said Motley Rice attorney Fidelma Fitzpatrick, who served as lead trial counsel for plaintiffs in the historic 2014 bench trial. “Due to the Supreme Court declining to review this litigation, the defendants are out of appeals options and must finally face the reality of their harms and make it right for the thousands of California children and families harmed by lead paint. I applaud the cities and counties that remained dedicated to this litigation and who can move forward to find a comprehensive solution as swiftly as possible to limit the number of children who will inevitably be subjected to neurological damage and other harms due to lead poisoning and exposure.”

California lead paint litigation background

Defendant companies appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn a January 2014 ruling by Judge James P. Kleinberg that declared lead pigment companies created a public nuisance by promoting the use of toxic paint in California homes. At the time, Kleinberg ordered the lead companies to pay $1.15 billion to facilitate cleanup efforts in the state for housing built before 1980. A November 2017 ruling by a three-justice panel of the California Court of Appeals, 6th District affirmed the majority of Kleinberg’s ruling regarding the culpability of the defendants. The panel, however, remanded the litigation to the Santa Clara Superior Court to calculate new costs to fund the abatement and remove toxic paint from pre-1951 constructed homes in plaintiff jurisdictions. Defendants attempted to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of California, but the Court declined to review the case in February 2018. As a result of the Supreme Court declining to consider the litigation, the litigation is closer to being resolved with the remaining defendants.

The county counsel and city attorneys who brought the case were assisted by Motley Rice, along with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP; Law Office of Peter Earle; and Mary Alexander and Associates.

Read more on the Supreme Court of California’s February 2018 decision.

Read more on the California Court of Appeals’ November 2017 decision.

Read Santa Clara County’s press release about the decision.

Read the City of Oakland’s press release about the decision.

Read San Francisco’s press release about the decision.

Read the City of San Diego's press release about the decision.

Read more about the historic litigation.