Rhode Island Court Exonerates Paint Manufacturers: Experts Comment

Published July 1, 2008

The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled unanimously today (7/1/08) that paint companies cannot be held liable for current lead-paint abatement costs for paint they ceased manufacturing in 1955. The firms had been facing remediation costs of several billion dollars.

The Rhode Island case was filed in 1999 by a contingent-fee law firm representing the state. The high court’s decision, overturning a lower court, was a major victory for the companies. With this decision, Rhode Island joins the states of Missouri, New Jersey, Illinois, and New York and a jury in Wisconsin in rejecting similar cases.

Experts contacted by The Heartland Institute, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the companies, praised the verdict. Their comments below may be quoted or you may contacted them directly.

“The paint companies were forced by the greed of contingent fee lawyers — who were aided and abetted by trial judge Michael Silverstein — to litigate for eight years a case the Rhode Island Supreme Court now says should never have been brought in the first place.

“It is unfortunate that it took so many years and so much money for the paint companies to prevail, but it is gratifying that they finally did.”

Maureen Martin
Senior Fellow for Legal Affairs
The Heartland Institute
(920) 229-6670
[email protected]

“This decision is a sound and unequivocal rejection of the state’s attempt to misuse the public-nuisance doctrine. Blood lead levels in Rhode Island are at historic lows and are continuing to decline dramatically. Federal and state regulations establish that intact lead paint is not a hazard, and the vast majority of property owners in Rhode Island are responsible and maintain their properties.

“But some landlords do not maintain their properties and allow old paint to deteriorate. Litigation is a distraction from the proven solution of enforcing the law against landlords who neglect their property.”

Charles H. Moellenberg, Jr.
Jones Day
Attorney for Defendant Sherwin-Williams Company
Commenting also on behalf of Defendant Millennium Holdings, LLC
(412) 394-7917
[email protected]

“Unburdened by this state-sponsored lawsuit, Rhode Island’s enforcement and health agencies can concentrate fully on the state’s legislative and regulatory policy, which emphasizes lead-safe housing and lead-exposure recognition, education, and prevention. The state’s public policy has brought the number of childhood lead cases down to low single-digit percentages in Rhode Island, and the state is on target to meet the Centers for Disease Control Goal 2010, set for all states to eradicate childhood lead poisoning.

“This policy, as in many other states such as New Jersey, Maryland, and Wisconsin, puts the onus on the landlord (the one in control of the property) to keep housing in lead-safe condition, according to federal, state, and local rules.”

Thomas Graves
Vice President and General Counsel
National Paint and Coatings Association
(202) 462-6272
[email protected]

“What a waste of money and time for the three lead paint defendants, Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries, and Millennium Holdings. The plaintiff bar and Rhode Island Attorneys General Sheldon Whitehouse and Patrick Lynch should have a lot to reflect on now that the Rhode Island Supreme Court has tossed the whole enchilada. This travesty of justice will live in American legal history.”

Jane Genova
President, Genova Writing & More
Blogger on the Rhode Island case at Lawandmore
(203) 468-8579
Cell: (860) 280-5613
[email protected]

Nothing in this Media Advisory is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information, contact Dan Miller, executive vice president, The Heartland Institute, at 312/377-4000, or [email protected].