Lead Paint Ruling: Billion Dollar Public Health Decision in California


Ten California cities and counties succeed in holding accountable lead pigment companies that marketed, promoted and profited from lead paint despite knowing it was toxic

SAN JOSE, CALIF. – On Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, the Honorable James P. Kleinberg of the Santa Clara Superior Court issued a Statement of Decision finalizing his December 2013 ruling that three lead paint companies created a public nuisance by concealing the dangers of lead, pursued a campaign against regulation of lead and actively promoted lead for use in homes, despite knowing that lead paint was highly toxic. The Court ruled in favor of the People of the State of California and against Defendants ConAgra Grocery Products Company, LLC, NL Industries, Inc., and The Sherwin-Williams Company.

Judge Kleinberg ruled that “[t]he Defendants against whom judgment is entered, jointly and severally, shall pay to the State of California $1,150,000,000 (One Billion One Hundred Fifty Million Dollars) into a specifically designated, dedicated, and restricted abatement fund (the “Fund”),” to be administered by the State of California’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch (CLPPB). The tentative decision originally set the amount at $1.1 billion.

Ten California cities and counties, 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, represented the People of the State of California. The county counsel and city attorneys who brought the case were assisted by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP, Law Office of Peter Earle, Mary Alexander and Associates and Motley Rice LLC.

“The final decision by Judge Kleinberg reinforces what we believe and stand behind everyday – that companies that knowingly promote hazardous products and therefore create a public nuisance should be held accountable for their actions,” said Joe Rice, co-founder of Motley Rice. “Our firm has been dedicated to this issue for years, fighting with and for our clients, investing immense resources and time and overcoming numerous challenges. It is courageous clients and entities like the cities and counties in California that reinforce why we won’t and don’t give up, no matter what obstacles are thrown in the way and what defendants do to try to avoid accountability.”

“As a result of Judge Kleinberg’s thoughtful consideration of both sides of this issue and resulting decision, the companies that willingly used and promoted lead pigment, despite knowledge of the harm it can cause, will finally be forced to take responsibility for the damage they have caused, instead of putting the burden on public entities,” stated Motley Rice member Fidelma Fitzpatrick, who served as lead trial counsel representing the People. “The abatement plan is a proactive solution to preventing lead poisoning waiting to happen due to existing paint – a positive example of prevention instead of treating the negative effects after the fact.”

“This decision will help to ensure that children in California will not be poisoned from lead paint in their homes and can grow up to be the very best and brightest they can be,” said Dr. David Jacobs, who developed the abatement plan presented at the trial, and identified the state-of-the-art proven and practical methods that will be used to ensure the work is done safely and effectively. Dr. Jacobs is the Research Director at the National Center for Healthy Housing and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He previously directed the nationwide Lead Hazard Control Program at HUD from 1995-2004.

Motley Rice member Vince Parrett, who tried the case with Fitzpatrick, added, “Judge Kleinberg's Final Decision will improve and save the health, safety and lives of children throughout the State of California. This is the epitome of our mission at Motley Rice.”

“The court’s decision confirms what we have been saying for more than 25 years – that the lead pigment industry knew that it was poisoning children and harming them for decades and failed to disclose that horrific truth,” said Arthur Bryant, executive director of Public Justice. “It is time for them to be held accountable.”

Despite lead paint being outlawed for residential purposes by the Federal Government more than 35 years ago, it is still present in more than five million homes built prior to 1978 in the represented cities and counties, and continues to threaten the health of California’s families and children. In 2009 alone, 10,875 children in the cities and counties prosecuting the case had been poisoned by lead. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and California’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch, lead paint is the primary cause of lead exposure for children who live in older homes. The California Legislature has declared that “childhood lead exposure represents the most significant childhood environmental problem in the state today.” (Health & Saf. Code, § 124125)

In 2012, the CDC released the report, CDC Response to Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Recommendations in “Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children: A Renewed Call of Primary Prevention,” finding that “no safe blood lead level in children has been identified.” Even at the lowest levels, lead causes permanent neurological damage to children, decreasing IQ and causing other serious health consequences.

Read the full Statement of Decision.

About Motley Rice LLC
Motley Rice is one of the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ litigation firms. With a tradition of representing those whose rights have been violated, Motley Rice attorneys gained recognition for their pioneering asbestos lawsuits, their work with the State Attorneys General in the landmark litigation against Big Tobacco, their representation of 9/11 victims, families and survivors in the ongoing lawsuit against terrorist financiers, and their role as negotiators in the ongoing litigation related to the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Motley Rice is headquartered in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., and has additional offices in California; Connecticut; Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; New York; Rhode Island and West Virginia. For more information about Motley Rice, contact 1.800.768.4026. Connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter.

Note for Media: Member and co-lead trial counsel Fidelma Fitzpatrick is available for comment.


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UPDATE: On Nov. 14, 2017, The California Court of Appeals, 6th appellate District, affirmed the majority of a lower court ruling that found three lead paint companies created a public nuisance by promoting toxic lead paint for interior residential use. The case was then remanded to the Santa Clara Superior Court to decide how much defendants should pay to establish an abatement fund that will be used to clear toxic lead paint from homes in plaintiffs’ jurisdictions that were constructed prior to 1951. Homes built after 1951 were also excluded in the settlement.