The court’s decision marks a major victory in the historic case after nearly two decades of litigation
SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 15, 2018) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera released the following statement today after the United States Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the defendants in the lead paint case:
“After 18 years of litigation, this is a big victory for California children. Some hurdles remain, but at the end of the day, this case will result in hundreds of millions of dollars to help ensure that lead paint does not poison another generation of children. This has been a long time coming, but now future generations throughout California will be protected from the devastating effects of lead paint. These companies profited by selling products that they knew were toxic, and they sold them to unwitting families. The time has come for these companies to pay to clean up their mess. I want to thank the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office for their hard work leading this effort all of these years.”
The lawsuit was initially filed in 2000 by then-Santa Clara County Counsel Ann Ravel, with San Francisco joining as a plaintiff the following year. Ten California cities and counties are now a part of the litigation.
The cities and counties alleged that defendants ConAgra Grocery Products Company, NL Industries, Inc., and the Sherwin-Williams Company’s aggressive marketing of lead paint, which they knew was highly toxic to young children, created a public nuisance that threatens the health of California’s children to this day.
In 2013, Judge James P. Kleinberg of Santa Clara Superior Court issued a $1.15 billion judgment in favor of the cities and counties, ruling that NL Industries, ConAgra and Sherwin-Williams were liable for the harm that they created.
In November 2017, the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District upheld the verdict for pre-1951 homes tainted with lead paint, overturned it as to homes built between 1951-1980, and remanded the case to trial court for further proceedings to limit the $1.15 billion abatement fund to an amount sufficient to address the problems lead paint poses in pre-1951 housing. The California Supreme Court denied review of the case in February 2018.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle later ruled that the abatement fund should be set at $409 million to cover pre-1951 housing. The defendants proposed the $409 million amount, so it is time for them to stop the endless appeals and to work with cities and counties to begin funding the abatement program.
The paint companies appealed the case in July to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied review today.
In San Francisco, over two thirds (68 percent) of homes were built before 1950, which is more than 235,000 residential units. At least 22,000 housing units in San Francisco that are occupied by low and moderate income families are believed to have lead-based paint hazards.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and California’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch, lead paint and its degradation into lead-contaminated dust and soil 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 & Safety Code § 124125)
In 2009 alone, 10,875 children in the cities and counties prosecuting the case had been poisoned by lead. In 2012, the CDC released a report, the 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.
The jurisdictions who are plaintiffs in this case are Santa Clara County, Alameda County, 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. The jurisdictions were represented by the law firms of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP, Motley Rice LLP, Altshuler Berzon LLP, Mary Alexander and Associates, and the Law Offices of Peter Earle, as well as by their own County Counsel and City Attorney’s Offices.
The case is County of Santa Clara v. Atlantic Richfield Co. et al., Santa Clara Superior Court, case no. 1-00-CV-788657, filed Mar. 23, 2000. Additional documentation from the case is available on the City Attorney’s website at: www.sfcityattorney.org