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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Clinic Helps Obtain $305 Million Settlement in Lead Paint Litigation

Yale Law School clinic students have helped San Francisco and nine other localities achieve a landmark victory in their litigation against lead paint companies. Students in the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project (SFALP) helped the San Francisco City Attorney and his counterparts across California reach a $305 million settlement with the corporations, which will allow the cities and counties to eliminate lead paint-related hazards that have poisoned tens of thousands of children a year for a generation.

The settlement, reached July 17, puts an end to nearly two decades of contentious litigation. San Francisco joined the case shortly after Santa Clara County filed it in 2000. The localities found evidence that the companies had promoted lead paint for home use despite knowing that their products were highly toxic. In 2014, a California Superior Court judge held the companies liable and ordered them to provide the funds needed to remove lead paint from homes built before 1978. The California Court of Appeals upheld the decision in 2017, though it narrowed the defendants’ liability to homes built before 1951. In October 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the judgment. The parties nonetheless remained mired in a number of disputes regarding the process by which funds should be disbursed.

The settlement frees the cities and counties from those concerns. It also discards restrictions built into the original judgment, such as the requirement to return any funds not used after four years and the exemption for homes built after 1950. The localities will apportion settlement funds based on the number of homes in each jurisdiction that contain lead paint. San Francisco will receive approximately $21 million for its decontamination programs.

“Lead paint has created a public health crisis for communities in California and across our nation,” said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “This agreement ensures that significant resources will go to address the lead paint crisis and that local governments have the flexibility to best protect children from this pervasive environmental hazard.”

“This settlement will be crucial to remediation efforts in San Francisco and nine other California localities,” added Eliza Pan ’19, who dedicated the better part of her 3L year to the litigation. “Working on this public health case with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office has been an eye-opening and gratifying experience. I am excited for the team and for the current and future generations of children who will be protected from lead paint exposure.”

SFALP students have played a pivotal role in the litigation since 2006, putting in thousands of hours of legal and factual research. As Deputy City Attorney Owen Clements emphasized, “SFALP students were there for every critical part of the fight. Their excellent work contributed very significantly to our successes along the way.”

“A generation of SFALP students has worked on this important case,” said Heather Gerken, Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law at Yale Law School, and director of SFALP. “It is gratifying to see it come to a close and to know how many kids in San Francisco will live healthier lives because of the work our students and the City Attorney have done.”

SFALP partners students with lawyers in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office to bring groundbreaking public interest lawsuits. This model has produced successful results for more than 10 years.